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The Terminal List, review: military fetishism, gun porn and the dumbest TV show of the year

·4 min read
Chris Pratt is James Reece, a clichéd rogue operator in The Terminal List on Amazon Prime Video - Amazon Prime Video
Chris Pratt is James Reece, a clichéd rogue operator in The Terminal List on Amazon Prime Video - Amazon Prime Video

Hollywood has a Chris problem. There are simply too many of them, all identikit hunks starring in similar superhero and sci-fi franchises. Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth… Who has the time or inclination to tell them apart? That being said, Chris Pratt is marginally my favourite, thanks to his breakthrough role as endearingly goofy slacker Andy Dwyer in mighty NBC sitcom Parks & Recreation. He’s since hit the gym, lost several stone and become a bona fide leading man.

Now Pratt returns to TV for lumpen military thriller The Terminal List (Amazon Prime Video), adapted from Jack Carr’s bestselling novel. He plays Lt Commander James Reece, leader of an elite platoon of US Navy Seals. When they’re ambushed during a covert mission in Syria, all his comrades are killed. Sole survivor Reece returns home to be quizzed about what went wrong – but his account differs dramatically from the official records.

Despite suffering migraines and memory loss, Reece realises dark forces are at play and a cover-up is in progress. His trauma is represented with flashbacks and dream sequences which soon become as irritating as they are confusing. Pratt is often reduced to staring into space looking baffled and whiskery, resembling a grizzly bear with mild concussion.

A miscast Pratt isn’t the only problem with this eight-part pudding of a production. The script and story are even worse. It’s that hoary old thriller trope: a conspiracy that goes right to the top. All the soldiers are noble warriors, while the top brass and politicians are dastardly swines. Who would have thought it?

Reece is soon crossing names off a literal list as he takes out targets one by one, with plenty of collateral damage along the way. The body count is unfeasibly high. By the time Reece is detonating bombs in downtown San Francisco, he’s less a vengeful hero than a domestic terrorist. One torture scene featuring a hatchet is nauseatingly graphic.

The Terminal List combines violent cynicism with an over-romanticised view of the US military and fetishisation of firearms. The camera often lingers lovingly on weapons. Not ideal timing, with America’s recent spate of mass shootings and ongoing gun control debate. Meanwhile, po-faced Pratt is saddled with lines such as: “Bring them to justice? I am justice.” To signal that he’s a sensitive soul underneath, he gets sentimental about his daughter or whips out an acoustic guitar, like David Brent with bigger biceps.

Chris Pratt and Taylor Kitsch in The Terminal List on Amazon Prime - Amazon Prime Video
Chris Pratt and Taylor Kitsch in The Terminal List on Amazon Prime - Amazon Prime Video

There’s an interesting story hiding somewhere deep within The Terminal List about billion-dollar defence contracts and the commercialisation of war. Unfortunately, it’s hidden beneath an impenetrable layer of beards, brawn and genre clichés. It has pretensions to be a psychological drama but comes off like a less subtle Rambo. Its budget is far bigger than its brains.

It’s essentially a mediocre action movie, strung out for eight hours. Some fight sequences are serviceable but they invariably happen in the dark, meaning viewers must peer into the murk to work out who’s killing who. In between, it’s padded out with endless plot twists. Every time Reece unmasks a villain, a bigger bad appears in the background. Law enforcement are constantly having the case taken off them by a higher power, then going rogue and pursuing it anyway. Reece acquires a string of interchangeable sidekicks who stay mystifyingly loyal to him as the corpses pile up.

Amazon enjoyed success earlier this year with Reacher – another eight-part thriller adapted from a bestselling series of novels. The difference is that Jack Reacher is a beloved hero and his TV incarnation was executed with style, swagger and wit. The Terminal List, well, isn’t. In fact, it’s terminally poor. It also features some frankly unforgivable sunglasses.

Pratt’s Parks & Rec character had fantasy alter egos as a ninja named Johnny Karate and an FBI agent called Burt Macklin. Pratt is now starring in precisely the sort of projects he used to lampoon: lame Jurassic Park sequels and this grunting pile of guff. Many more misfires and I might bother finding out who the other Chrises are.