It’s not as if Chadwick Boseman has something to prove after “Black Panther.” And that’s not just because of the popular and critical success he’s enjoyed in playing the Marvel hero. Boseman had already made an impression over the last few years, with the biopic trifecta of “42” (Jackie Robinson), “Get on Up” (James Brown) and “Marshall” (Supreme Court justice Thurgood). Ultimately, T’Challa was one more icon on his resume, not a cause to question whether he might be a one-hit wonder.
What Boseman’s initial post-Panther vehicle, “21 Bridges,” instead represents is a look at what sort of opportunities superhero stardom is affording him. Presumably there will be worthier gigs than this middling cop thriller, whose attention-grabbing city-on-lockdown premise is undercut by thin plotting and forced performances from the supporting cast.
Boseman plays Andre Davis, a New York police detective whose policeman father was slain in Andre’s youth, and who makes no apologies for the numerous shootings he’s been racking up in his own career. “Justice comes at a cost,” he stonily tells internal affairs — and we’re not inclined to quibble.
When a Brooklyn drug-stash robbery turns complicated for a couple of gunmen (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) and several officers are killed, their captain (J.K. Simmons) urges Andre to strike back, hard. But Andre is cooler-thinking than that — cool enough, in fact, to realize that the authorities’ best chance is to box in the shooters in Manhattan by shutting down all bridges, tunnels, and transit until daylight.
It’s a tense setup, one that obviously carries particular resonance locally after this area’s experience with the marathon-bombing manhunt. Yet the filmmakers don’t seem to have an interest in actually reading any material they might have ripped from headlines, judging by the unconvincingly streamlined way in which the whole operation unfolds.
TV-trained director Brian Kirk (“Game of Thrones”) teases us with the prospect of something better, especially in the early going, as the robbery sequence delivers a mix of grit and sleekness that recalls Michael Mann. But elsewhere, Kirk and company lose their handle on how much polish to apply. Kitsch and James’s desperate perps are compelling but too eloquent, while “Noo Yawkahs” Simmons and Sienna Miller, as Boseman’s partner, are simply too much. (Had Simmons just channeled his “Whiplash” hardcase, he would have been fine.)
At least the intensity that Boseman brings is on the mark throughout. It’s telling, though, that the biggest reaction at a preview screening came when one audience member punctuated a climactic scene with an amusingly timed “Wakanda forever!” But it shouldn’t be solely about Wakanda forever, should it? Boseman has too much screen presence for that.
Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.
Directed by Brian Kirk. Written by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons, Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 99 minutes. R (violence and language throughout).