It’s maddening to think “Cherry” gives us two-plus hours to spend with its main character, but we’re still not sure what makes him tick.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo bring buckets of style to their biggest post-“Avengers” project. The results are mixed, to say the least, but we’re given all the proof needed that Tom Holland is more than a friendly neighborhood web slinger.
Holland stars as our unnamed protagonist, a lost soul who narrates his own life story. Narration rarely makes movies better. More often it covers up nagging flaws in the film itself.
Show, don’t tell.
Our story starts in the quasi-present but quickly shifts back to the character’s younger days. He’s emotionally adrift but finds anchor with a beguiling co-ed (Ciara Bravo as Emily). She abruptly breaks his heart, convincing him to join the U.S. military to get her off his mind.
Holland’s character, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, suffers severe emotional wounds during his tour of duty, which leads him to depend on narcotics to reclaim his sanity.
So “Cherry” is the tale of a disaffected youth that morphs into an anti-military screed before showcasing the opioid epidemic. It’s all tied together with the Russos’ aggressive flourishes, from cherry-red filters to fourth wall interruptions. It’s a hodge podge that keeps “Cherry” infinitely watchable, along with Holland’s bravura turn.
So what’s missing? Let’s start with the main character. Is he a victim of an indifferent society, or someone crushed by his own poor decisions? Is “Cherry” an attack on western culture or a warning about the need for love and community?
Does Holland’s character have an ounce of sympathy for the lives shattered by his actions? That might help us root for his redemption.
The extended Iraq War segment doesn’t get bogged down in political sniping, but it’s also a parade of war movie cliches without fresh insights to make the material pop. The heroes and villains are all too obvious, and we pine for the savagery seen in superior films like “Full Metal Jacket.”
There’s no thematic through line in “Cherry,” leaving the Russos to deploy every trick in their considerable arsenal. Slo-mo sequences abound, particularly during the bloated finale. Some camera tricks dazzle, while others seem desperate or just unnecessary.
The same holds true for the musical choices, which veer from over-ripe to wonderfully understated.
Other artistic choices simply confuse the viewer. Why does the movie swap out conventional bank names for replacements like “Sh**y Bank?” If you’re gonna go all Occupy Wall Street on us, at least make a convincing argument on its behalf.
Or any argument at all.
Holland delivers everything the story demands, turning his youthful visage into a portrait of pain and regret. Just who is he, though, a critical question “Cherry” never finds time to answer. That’s even more true of Emily, who gets oodles of screen time but never leaves a ripe impression.
The film’s final moments let the Russos unleash everything left on us, but audiences may greet the wave of emotional stunts with a shrug.
HiT or Miss: “Cherry” is an audacious character study that never lets us into the mind of its troubled anti-hero.