Free Fire

In an empty Boston warehouse in the 1970s, two groups of criminals meet up to exchange a ton of guns for a ton of cash. Bad blood between thugs on each side soon erupts into a fight, and it doesn't take long for all those guns to get put to use.

That sums up Free Fire: actors of various levels of renown (including Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, and Brie Larson as the lone female) don funky '70s-ish duds, gather in a big dusty room, and work off a script loaded with as many F-bombs as bullets.

If this were the 1990s, Free Fire would be dismissed as one of the many Tarantino ripoffs that emerged after the success of Pulp Fiction. It its own way, the film seems as nostalgic for the '90s as it does the '70s: it's a close cousin to Tarantino's own Reservoir Dogs. But British arthouse It-boy Wheatley, who penned the screenplay with his regular cowriter and editor and wife Amy Jump, is a hard filmmaker to pin down. This is the third Wheatley/Jump enterprise that I've seen – the others being the sadistic but intriguing horror-ish entry Kill List and the stylish but meandering J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise – and at this point I can safely say that I just don't connect with their work. Free Fire is often funny – Copley, as an uptight South African arms dealer, gets the best lines – yet it isn't much fun. I find Wheatley's films exhausting to watch, with oppressive atmospheres and plots that prefer to wallow than accelerate. They are intellectual exercises: brutally violent but disinterested, dry-humored and just dry, period.

Free Fire isn't bad. It's certainly more lively than its predecessors. Like most shoot-'em-ups and most Ben Wheatley pictures, it will gain a cult following. Yet despite the appealing cast and some rich gallows humor, I quickly became numb to the sound of gunfire and mostly just felt bad for the actors. The film must have been storyboarded up the wazoo to ensure that its countless shots – both camera and gun – go the right direction, so I imagine the cast spending most of their time being told, "Lie on the ground, look to the left, say your line, fire your gun a couple times... Right, that's that." Coincidentally, "that's that" is what I said to myself when the movie was over.