Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (strong violence, and language throughout). In theaters and on HBO Max.
In the new thriller “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” Angelina Jolie is repeatedly punched in the face, kicked and stabbed by Nicholas Hoult as a forest fire rages around them. She then jumps into a pond to survive the blaze.
Does that brutal beatdown and near incineration send her off in a stretcher to the hospital burn ward? Nope. She looks divine as ever.
That’s typical of Jolie, whose characters rarely get ugly regardless of their cruel circumstances. Whether a well-to-do former dancer in a crumbling marriage or a maligned dragon villainess, the actress is always Vogue-ready.
This time the glamor is especially befuddling. Jolie plays Hannah — a brusque Montana firefighter. What? That can’t be right. A femme fatale, sure. But a flame fatale?
When Jolie, in her first meaty role since 2015, sits at a picnic table cursing and cracking crude jokes with her meathead co-workers, you think, “one of these things is not like the other.”
Hannah has some strange hobbies. She enjoys standing in the back of a pickup truck while the guys drive full speed and then opens a parachute and goes flying off the side of the road. Fun?
Her penchant for stupid risks comes from a traumatic past experience. While trying to put out a fire years earlier, she was unable to save three screaming kids. Hannah constantly lives with the guilt from that day, and is emotionally bereft because of it.
So, naturally, her co-star here is a child. Connor (Finn Little) is on the run from two assassins who chased down and murdered his accountant father because he knew too much about a powerful crime boss (Tyler Perry, who has earned his cameo appearance merit badge many times over).
Before he died, Connor’s pop handed the boy a note instructing him to take it to a TV news station. “Creeks lead to rivers; rivers lead to towns,” he says. Connor quickly runs into Hannah, who’s stationed in a watch tower in the woods.
Jolie and Little form a touching if nondescript bond as they make their way through the forest to safety. It’s a lot of running and commiserating.
While they hike, the killers, Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Hoult), are on a deadly pursuit, messily offing any local who gets in their way. This is a glaring stylistic inconsistency in director Taylor Sheridan’s sporadically entertaining film: When Jolie fights, she gets a little shiner and a dusting of soot like she’s Bert from “Mary Poppins.” But when Jack shoots a woman in the head, we fully see her brain splattered on the car window. So, is the movie gritty or not?
The pair are also the Lucy and Ethel of assassins. They leave behind messy crime scenes and clumsily start a massive forest fire. They’d be very easy to catch, particularly considering Gillen, who played Little Finger on “Game of Thrones,” is among the most effortlessly evil people alive.
On one hand, I admire the film’s simplicity. “Those Who Wish Me Dead” has few characters, few locations, no twists and a primal driving goal: survival. But that straightforwardness has its drawbacks when you’re craving new scenery, or a different voice or an unpredictable moment. There aren’t any.
Despite being a She-Hulk who’s seemingly impervious to physical pain, Jolie turns in her best performance in a while — arguably in over a decade. She’s relaxed, determined and maternal here, and connects well with Little, who is a big talent.
Jolie should take on more acting opportunities like this one, only with fewer firehoses.