Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 4, 2013)
When I last saw John Cusack, he starred in the direct-to-video thriller The Factory. Now Cusack’s back… with another direct-to-video thriller. Well, I guess consistency counts for something.
In 2013’s The Numbers Station, we learn about government locations that use CIA operatives to decode sent/received secret messages. When his latest mission goes awry, black ops agent Emerson Kent (Cusack) gets a negative psych eval and leaves active duty.
To allow him time to regroup, Kent receives a seemingly simple, relaxed assignment to “babysit” analyst Katherine (Malin Akerman) at a remote British location. Inevitably, the situation becomes more complex and Kent needs to team with Katherine to ward off an attack.
With its claustrophobic setting, Station comes with some promise. It operates on a bit of a Die Hard framework, as the hero needs to improvise in a tight circumstance to battle off a ruthless foe.
Alas, Station doesn’t do a lot to exploit potential excitement. This is a pretty restrained thriller, as it largely eschews action and instead prefers creepy atmosphere and attempts at psychological involvement.
Those could’ve created an involving tale, but Station remains too one-dimensional to explore its subjects in a satisfying manner. In theory, the plot should capture out attention, as it doesn’t telegraph too much; we learn dribs and drabs about the baddies as they attempt to execute their plan.
Unfortunately, those bits and pieces don’t add up to much, partly because the film prefers to spend more time with interpersonal interactionship between Kent and Katherine. Some of this makes sense, as their bonding means Kent will find it more difficult to do his job, but these moments occupy too much of the story. When I see a thriller, I kind of want some thrills, you know?
The story’s construction doesn’t help. Much of it plays in flashback, as Kent and Katherine piece together their situation via recordings they find. This creates a clever take of sorts, but it also leaves our leads inactive too much of the time, as we often get stuck with shots of Kent and Katherine as they do nothing but sit and listen.
As for the actors, they have their charms. Akerman does her best to bring life to the tale, and Cusack shows a certain dark depth in his role. Neither gets much with which to work – and I think Cusack does better in comedy – but at least they bolster the movie as much as they can.
They just can’t redeem a generally slow, lifeless narrative, though. Numbers Station isn’t a complete loss, as it delivers enough intrigue to keep us with it. However, it never becomes better than average and it squanders its potential to turn into something stronger than that.