If the majority of your film is based on a hot woman killing lots of people, it’s difficult to class it up. Saccharine emotions and pretty shots can only diminish the impact of a person wreaking bloody havoc on nameless foes. Joe Lynch’s Everly wants to take its violent, exploitative attitude and make it look respectable. And while it may try to appear fancy, it barely offers anything new other than easy titillation and mindless violence. Those things have their place, but Everly makes them tidy and ultimately tedious.
Everly (Salma Hayek) is a prostitute for the Japanese mafia, and after a night of abuse, she guns down her attackers in self-defense. Her plan to run away with her estranged mother (Laura Cepeda) and daughter (Aisha Ayamah) is thwarted when her boss informs her that she will die in that apartment. Everly has no problem accepting death, but she needs to stay alive long enough to give a suitcase full of money to her family. As goons and other prostitutes try to collect their bounty, Everly must scramble to survival.
To the movie’s credit, it’s clear that Everly isn’t a highly-trained force-of-nature. Her defining trait is that she’s tough and determined; so determined that being shot (not grazed, but straight up shot through the side of her abdomen) is treated as an inconvenience rather than a source of excruciating pain or even a reminder of how much time she has left to live. It’s admirable that Everly is willing to accept her fate, but the film isn’t interested in her mortality as much as it cares about nameless characters shuffling loose the mortal coil.
This turns the movie into video game “horde mode” where waves of bad guys charge into the apartment (where most of the story takes place) and Everly finds various, but rarely creative, ways to kill them. You can only see her shoot down so many thugs before they all blend into a parade of guys who took their fashion tips from Men in Black. The hook of seeing a hot woman dressed in skimpy clothing (she eventually dresses more practically) firing big guns wears off quickly, and like his protagonist, Lynch has almost nowhere to go. The lone bright spots come when he decides to mix it up with strange antagonists, but every time he throws in someone other than a henchman, the novelty devolves into a bloody mess.
And sometimes a bloody mess in a movie can be fun! I don’t have a problem with movie violence, but presentation matters, and there’s no need to be “serious” when your film is based on such an exploitative premise. The movie is too pretty to be gritty, too tame to be aggressive, and too conventional to be weird. Instead, we’re treated to overwrought drama between Everly and her mother plus some nicely framed shots that give us a sense of security when our heroine’s world is chaos. If Lynch was intent on giving his movie depth and shading, he missed an opportunity with exploring the whore/Madonna dynamic where one tired, reductive view of female characters informs the other.
If Everly does have a message, it’s that all power stems from violence, and the most powerful person is the one who can live through gunfights and explosions. The premise of an attractive woman unloading an automatic weapon is fine, but it’s also this, and that video doesn’t hide what it’s trying to do. It’s cheesy, weird, and oddly enjoyable. Everly is content to be slick and clever when it’s really just bland and repetitive.