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Those crazy CIA guys and their murderous CIA ways. If you watch enough Hollywood movies, you’d swear that 90% of all deaths around the world can be attributed to the CIA and their legion of black ops killers, such as John Cusack’s Emerson in director Kasper Barfoed’s “The Numbers Station”. Natural disasters? Meteorites from outer space? Psst. Not even close. Emerson is no Jason Bourne, of course, but he’s pretty badass in his own right, though he makes the mistake of developing a conscience early in the film. In case you were wondering, that’s not a good thing for a guy who takes such pride in his ability to murder people for mom, country, and apple pie that he demands his partners “start the count” every time he goes off to do some murderin’.
After he flubs a job because of that whole conscience thing, Emerson is re-assigned to a “numbers station” in the English countryside to watch over the impossibly perky Katherine (Malin Akerman) as she broadcasts a series of seemingly random numbers into the ether. Those numbers, we’re told, are actually super secret codes delivering orders to the CIA’s legion of badass black ops killers to do, well, murderin’ around the world. It’s a shitty job, and Emerson is bored out of his mind, though on the plus side he gets to watch Katherine for hours on end, and she’s pretty darn cute. I think he’s even starting to fall for her, which is — yep, you guessed it — another one of those things he’s not supposed to do.
Turns out, the super secret CIA numbers station isn’t so super secret after all, and a gang of highly-trained killers descend on the place. Emerson manages to fight them off and lock himself and Katherine inside, and are told that reinforcement are forthcoming. Eventually, anyway. The problem is, the bad guys have managed to broadcast a bunch of fake kill orders to agents in the field, which means Emerson and Katherine have to undo the damage. This, while the bad guys are trying to break into the station to stop them. Emerson is up to the task of defending the joint, but Katherine is rightfully freaked. After all, she was hoping for a little fun while serving her country, not run from dudes with guns.
If you can get over the film’s rather generic CIA angle, “The Numbers Station” has an interesting set-up involving the broadcasting of what are essentially kill orders by civilians who have no idea what they’re doing. I can see how screenwriter F. Scott Frazier may have sold his story on that rather novel premise, even though much of the film treads familiar ground, with Emerson and Katherine trapped in an isolated location as bad guys beat down their doors. The bulk of the action is spent with the duo as they run from room to room trying to solve the mystery of what the bad guys were doing in the station before they arrived, and what happened to the previous shift. Hint: nothing good.
Cusack has played this type of role before, albeit with a comedy slant (1997’s “Grosse Pointe Blank” and 2008’s “War, Inc” come to mind). Here, though, he does it straight, with a world-weariness about his Emerson that’s pretty convincing. Cusack’s CIA character is a skillful killer, but a better liar, and you can almost see him fighting with himself about his job description throughout the movie. Malin Akerman (“Watchmen”) brings out the best and worst in Emerson, and Akerman does a fine enough job as the damsel in distress. She doesn’t have much to do, mind you, but she does it well enough. Liam Cunningham co-stars as Emerson’s boss, and Joey Ansah (who spends his spare time trying to get a “Street Fighter” movie off the ground), plays a killer who can “shoot you all the way from Texas”. Hey, at least he’s humble about his skills.
Director Kasper Barfoed, making his Hollywood debut, does a good job of keeping things moving, with a nice build-up in the first act, followed by the siege middle section, before capping things off with a rather muted and unconventional third act, especially for a film in a genre that counts how well it does its job by the bodycount. The numbers station itself is underground an abandoned military base, and Barfoed makes great use of the tight confines of the bunker to heighten the tension. The action comes in spurts, though the film drops the ball by not offering up more resistance for Emerson. After a while, you keep waiting for more to happen, for Emerson to really cut loose, but, well, it never happens.
“The Numbers Station” opens in limited release April 26, 2013, but is currently available via Amazon Instant Video.
Kasper Barfoed (director) / F. Scott Frazier (screenplay)
CAST: Malin Akerman … Katherine
John Cusack … Emerson
Liam Cunningham … Grey
Hannah Murray … Rachel Davis
Lucy Griffiths … Meredith
Joey Ansah … Derne
Richard Brake … Max
Bryan Dick … David