The Numbers Station (2013)

John Cusack is Emerson, a hit man who suffers a breakdown and is reassigned to a babysitting job. Malin Akerman is Katherine, the girl he's supposed to protect. And the title refers to the location - a bunker from where coded messages are sent out to agents in the field. Needless to say, if anyone got in a position to use one of these stations for nefarious purposes, it wouldn't be good. Well, guess what happens next...

The Numbers Station sounded like an intriguing premise. I was imagining a sort of mix between James Bond and Lost. A tight location, a siege situation, and lots of secrets.

That's why the opening is so disappointing. First there's the "oh this is like totally based on real things in the real world, for real"-caption. Look, if you want me to enjoy a film like this, the worst thing you can do is remind me of reality. Then there's the classic hitman-is-tired-of-his-job opening, which doesn't do the film any favors (though it does have one cool shot). And then there's John Cusack...

I'm not sure where it went wrong for for Mr. Cusack. He used to be the very definition of cool, now he looks like a man who has lost the will to live. That's the way he looks in every film these days. Every time he shows up he drains a scene of energy. It's worse than an actor just cashing a paycheck, or when you can tell they would rather be somewhere else, no, Cusack looks like a guy who doesn't even want to be. Because his performance completely fails, there's zero chemistry between the two leads. Malin Akerman tries heroically to make it work, but it's no good. She's acting opposite a lump of wet clay, and let's face it, she's not exactly A-list material herself. This is rather unfortunate, since most of the film takes place in a locked-down bunker, with only these two people to keep us company.

Which brings us to the basic setup. When Emerson and Katherine arrive for their shift - there are two teams covering this post - they discover that the station has been compromised, and that something happened to the other guys. This is the meat of the story. They have to find out what happened, protect themselves and protect the code.

Unfortunately many of the scenes are so poorly staged that it's completely unclear how big the facility is, what areas can be locked off, and what the general geography of the place is. This means there's no sense of claustrophobia at all, even though that's clearly what the film is going for. Also, if this station really is that important, why is it so badly designed and so hard to defend?

So the location doesn't work, what about the story?

Frankly it's a mess. What happened to the previous shift? This is explained via surveillance tapes, which the characters go through, but they can only find the sound. While they listen to this, we watch the events as proper flashbacks, with both sound and images, and yet, it often feels like the characters have seen the same clips we have seen, with images! That comes across as incredibly awkward.

Then there's the bad guys. I don't want to spoil anything, let's just say that we need a clear and present danger for the story to work, and we never get that. The writing is just so damn sloppy. Why does Emerson explain the code system to Katherine, when SHE is the code expert? Or why does Emerson vigilantly walk Katherine to the train at the end of every shift, but then he lets her ride home alone. Is he protecting her or not? Or is this just a feeble attempt by the writer to force a bit of bonding into the story?

When all is said and done, this is just a very simple story about two people briefly trapped in a bunker. The plot just goes around in circles, the same scenes playing out over and over again, and the film runs out of plot after a little over an hour. The remaining 20 minutes or so is just wrapping up.

The Numbers Station is crippled by a combination of lackluster direction, bad writing and a lead actor who is barely awake. It could have been a tight little thriller, but it's so full of plot holes and there are so many gaps in the logic that it's hard to enjoy it even as a silly B-movie.

Insert your own joke about making a movie "by the numbers" or stuff "not adding up" here.

Full cast and credits at IMDb.

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