UNCHARTED is like the first pitch meeting to potential financiers, which is odd since it’s been in development for almost a decade. What we have here is the broad outline of a plot full of twists, turns, and aerial stunts. What we don’t have is any sense of order or logic, even that of the video game on which it is based. With a light-hearted action/adventure flick such as this fancies itself to be, that is not an unsurmountable obstacle. Alas, there is nothing in the direction, writing, or characters that allows us to be distracted from that problem. Instead, we have two set pieces that are, if not breathtaking, at least interesting in a haven’t-seen-that-before plus a slick heist interlude, none of which justify the rest of the exercise.
We begin in media res, with Nate Drake (Tom Holland) falling through space before fighting his way back onto a plane with gravity, windshear, and a host of baddies attempting to stop him. Flash back 15 years, and we see the much younger Nate (Tiernan Jones) being swept up into the fortune-hunting dreams of his older brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow), no to mention his disregard for any legalities in his way. No better to give us the necessary exposition about finding the lost gold of Magellan, and why the now adult Nate, a light-fingered bartender and trivia whiz, would want to get involved with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a mysterious, and none too straight-arrow stranger who also dreams of finding that treasure. His hook for Nate? He claims to have been on the search with Sam before Nate was ghosted by him.
Sully already has the treasure map, what he doesn’t have is the key that will allow him to unlock the hoard. Actually, what he needs is the second key, both in the forms of solid gold crosses that Magellan’s crew had made up after hiding the treasure. Two because they didn’t trust each other any more that Nate trusts Sully, or either of the trust Chloe Frasier (Sophia Ali), the fleet-footed holder of the other key who meets up with them in Barcelona. Before you can say yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, the three of them are wending their way through Barcelona on a scavenger hunt that serves to remind us of how clever and well-plotted Dan Brown’s novels are, and how this flick is not.
The premise of renegade sailors having the wherewithal to create such an elaborate hunt is never explained, nor why hard-boiled mistrustful characters suddenly change their personas, only to change them back again when the story needs another twist. Also never explained is why the villain of the piece (Antonio Bandaras), a man proven to have no qualms about killing anyone who fails him, continues to employ Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), a knife-wielding hit-woman with even fewer qualms, when she repeatedly lets him down. It must be because Ms. Gabrielle looks so good when scuffling with anyone who gets in her way, and so she’s kept on until the bitter end.
There is a pungent lack of chemistry between any of the protagonists, not helped by bantering dialogue that falls flat 90% of the time. Holland and Wahlberg, both able thespians who have proven themselves capable of delivering quality work when the material allows then to, are left stranded, leaving us to cringe with empathy for the waste of talent. They are not helped by pedestrian direction that saps any remaining fun from the proceedings, and haphazard editing. For his part, Banderes relies on a series of leers, while Frazer is left with little to do but be feisty, and Gabrielle to assume an expression of deadpan menace from beneath a hairstyle remarkable for the intricate symmetry of its ebullient streaks. The coiffure may, in fact, be the most accomplished item in this otherwise ungainly excrescence.
UNCHARTED botches more opportunities than is worth enumerating. That irksome quality allows us, nay, compels us, to remove ourselves from what is happening for a few rounds of “where are the local police during this extended brawl?” and “how does that person still possess that accessory after freefalling through space from a very high altitude then plummeting into the sea?” and “why isn’t someone being asked for a passport, or even an ID, at this juncture?” The overwhelming emotion while enduring it is shock and awe that any movie could so boldly make so many missteps with such blithe disregard for all involved, including us.