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Review: Mission Kandahar

May 24, 2023

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

In Mission Kandahar (which is being released as Kandahar south of the border), Gerard Butler stars as Tom Harris, a covert CIA operative who must travel through Afghanistan with his translator Mo (Navid Negahban), towards an escape point in Kandahar.

The film opens with Butler’s Harris on an undercover mission to infiltrate and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the mission is compromised and his identity is revealed when their actions are exposed by a Pentagon whistleblower, who leaks them to an idealistic young journalist (Elenaaz Noruouzi). This puts Harris on the run, with his only option to escape involving getting to the Kandahar airport, while being actively pursued.

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, who also directed Butler in Greenland and Angel Has Fallen, the main issue with Mission Kandahar is that it never quite decides if it wants to be just another B-grade Gerard Butler action movie, or a deeper statement on US involvement in foreign conflicts, and the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. There are some interesting themes, but too many of them go unexplored, with several characters and story strands that feel underdeveloped. This is especially true of Noruouzi’s journalist character, who is sidelined for much of the film.

If Mission Kandahar is somewhat effective in places, and Waugh does stage some decent desert chase sequences (including a helicopter chase involving night-vision goggles), it’s held back by uneven pacing and a muddled story. The film gets off to an overly sluggish start, and the characters aren’t developed well enough for the more dramatic scenes to land as well as they could have in the context of the larger movie. Butler is a dependable presence in the leading role, but his absentee dad trying to get home to his teenage daughter arc feels somewhat tired and predictable.

“Ancient wars were fought for spoils, modern wars aren’t meant to be won,” Butler’s Harris intones at one point. It’s flashes of insight such as this, or a nicely performed heart-to-heart between Butler’s Harris and Negahban’s Mo that shows their shared humanity across cultural differences, that make us wish Mission Kandahar delivered something a bit deeper overall. But this just makes the generic, paint-by-numbers nature of the film as a whole all the more frustrating, considering the potential of the core story to offer something more genuinely thrilling and thought-provoking.

Mission Kandahar opens exclusively in theatres on May 26th. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

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