The figures simply do not add up in director Kasper Barfoed’s sleepy-eyed spy thriller T’he Numbers Station’. Uneventful and sluggish, ‘The Numbers Station’ is a grainy actioner that is embedded in blandness and mechanical follow-the-dots intrigue…not an ideal portrait for the supposedly riveting spycraft genre. The premise is rather original but Barfoed’s draggy narrative feels labored to the point that it wastes the considerable presence of its centerpiece in leading man John Cusack.
As an atmospheric and drowsy suspense piece, ‘The Numbers Station’ tells the tale of a morally conflicted CIA agent Emerson (Cusack) and his bid to protect a jeopardized American civilian cryptographer Katherine (Malin Akerman) from a dangerous fate within the confines of a bunker located in the English countryside. Barfoed’s pedestrian direction and screenwriter F. Scott Frazier’s barren script hardly gives ‘The Numbers Station’ any bounce or balance to tackle the sedate moodiness. Cusack’s demoralized US Intelligence operative parades around the region in zombie-like mode never quite delivering an impish dosage of energy or purpose as he demonstrated so playfully many years ago in his underrated hitman farce ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’.
In standard angst-ridden mode, Cusack’s embittered agent has a lot of so-called demons he is carrying on his back. He is a recovering alcoholic whose failure to complete a vital mission effectively resulted in the serious consequences of mounting casualties due to his complacency to act on command. Emerson’s botched affair regarding his assigned target, the target’s endangered wife and the target’s diabolical boss Grey (Liam Cunningham) lands the disillusioned government official on the doorsteps of a remote bunker where he must partner up with code expert Katherine as she deals with top priority numerical business for the various spy services she interacts with routinely.
The assignment for Emerson to hold up at the English bunker is a recommended means to have the confused enforcer collect his scattered thoughts and resume his high intensified duties once again. Unfortunately for Emerson and Katherine, they are soon overwhelmed by a force of assassins wanting to access the numeric codes and use the information for their dastardly gain. Naturally, this puts Emerson on the defensive as he must contend with these invading killers while a harried Katherine is in tow. Together, the tandem must engage in a typical cat-and-mouse game, put aside their personal and professional differences and figure out how to prevent this deadly bunch from achieving their sinister agenda.
Inexplicably stillborn and predictable, ‘The Numbers Station’ struggles mightily to incorporate a sense of slow burn thrills while feeding upon the disenchantment of our haunted hero in Cusack’s defeated Emerson. Sadly, this toothless spy drama wraps itself around a dreary and dim demeanor that echoes the conditions of the claustrophobic concrete bunker for which most of the stale story takes place. Staged shootouts, flat performances and by-the-numbers usage of the scenic English country surroundings equals nothing more than fuzzy math in the soulless ‘The Numbers Station’.
Droopy-eyed Cusack sleepwalks through this thinly veiled thriller and appears rather disengaged by the entire methodical production. Akerman tries her best to booster these perfunctory proceedings with some measured zip but the film’s meager material undermines her on-screen efforts. Hence ‘Numbers’ is about as lively as a high school algebra book. Cusack’s misplaced brooding handcuffs Akerman’s enthusiasm for adventure in this clunky caper. The poorly lit actioner is further hampered by intrusive shaky-cam angles, slight psychological edginess and the featured villainous vultures that resemble every other criminalized cretin you have seen countless times before in conventional action flicks.
Awkwardly conceived, ‘The Numbers Station’ does not know where its misplaced heart is at the moment. Does it wish to lean on the side of a low-key chase-and-shoot actioner or does it want to walk on the grounds of an unassuming psychological thriller? Whatever the case may be the decoding of this plodding plain Jane potboiler simply plays along by the arbitrary ‘Numbers’.
The Numbers Station (2013)
1 hr. 29 mins.
Starring: John Cusack, Malin Akerman, Liam Cunningham, Hannah Murray, Lucy Griffiths and Joe Montana
Directed by: Kasper Barfoed
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Espionage Thriller
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)