Good movies have a runtime. Bad movies never end. Cherry is eternal.
After helming a string of MCU movies, directing duo Anthony Russo and Joe Russo reteam with Spider-Man star Tom Holland for an action-dramedy about a bank robber who is also a soldier who is also an insufferable protagonist. Based on Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel, Cherry follows the eponymous hero through the tumultuous romance that steered him from college to the military to drug addiction to bank robbing and beyond. Because if a female character must be endured in this deeply macho manifesto, then the least she can do is be to blame for Cherry’s downfall.
Ciara Bravo co-stars as Cherry’s college sweetheart, Emily, who is given a white ribbon around her neck in lieu of any worthwhile character development. Hey, she’s gorgeous and–based on that necklace choice–unique! So, love is inevitable, even if the two leads have no sexual chemistry. To her credit, Bravo matches Holland for earnestness, both of them chucking themselves into a clumsy post-coital tumble, pretentious exchanges, and scenes where their dope-sick characters are shitting themselves uncontrollably. Maybe it was the promise of more mature material that drew Holland to Cherry. But just because a movie boasts sex, drug use, guns, and a bevy of curse words, doesn’t mean it’s mature.
Plus, Holland is cruelly miscast. The English actor drops an octave from his MCU American accent to give Cherry a gruffness. He shakes off the pep in his step, and brushes his hair into ruffled bangs. Yet none of this makes him seem the “kind of shady” guy the other characters describe. So, whether he’s duck-walking through basic training, driving a needle into his arm, or striding into a bank with gun drawn, it feels like a pose, lacking the gravitas to ground the drama.
The sheer shock value of the casting might have been intended to make a statement about something. Perhaps how the opioid crisis in America affects young people. Maybe about how the military service can ravage a young psyche? Maybe something about banks as a corrupt American institution? Who’s to say? You’d think Cherry himself, since his movie has an endless running commentary in voiceover. He chatters on about life, love, and trees. Of Emily, he opines, “She was just a sweetheart who believed in diversity and developing countries.” Of the importance of first impression, he declares, “I gave Benji a real man handshake, so he’d know I’m a real man.” Of his time as a military medic, he laments, “We were glorified scarecrows, there to look busy, expensive as fuck, and dumber than shit.”
In an ocean of Cherry nonsense, let it be known that scarecrows’ jobs are to stand there and scare crows. They do not “look busy,” and are not “expensive as fuck.” This is a terrible metaphor and the whole movie is like this, full of self-indulgent, faux-intellectual fuck boy prattle. The adapted screenplay by Angela Russo-Otsto and Jessica Goldberg treats drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder not as issues as much as juicy plot twists like war horrors, bank robbery, and Emily threatening to move away. There’s no message, just mess.
Perhaps the Russo Brothers hope their audience will be so caught up in the style of their movie that the lack of substance will go unnoticed. Unfortunately, their style is just ripping off every music video cliché from the ’90s, from freeze frames and dolly zooms, to fish-eyed lens, super saturated segments, and big graphic letters to spell out un-PC words. Leering upskirt shots of cheerleaders could be plucked from a Kid Rock video, but are used to titillate while expressing the macho mania of military life overseas. Yet for some reason, the score is littered with opera music. It feels wildly out of place every time, a soaring voice belts an aria as hoodie-wearing Cherry lumbers into another destructive decision. It feels as if the Russos were told opera music is what serious crime dramas do. So here you go, Scorsese, here’s your cinema!
On top of all this, there is a bizarre thread of dark humor that just doesn’t play. The Russos cast comedic actors like Damon Wayans Jr. and Thomas Lennon in minor roles, but in place of punch lines gives one the homophobic clichés of a drill sergeant and the other a silly name. A failed suicide attempt is treated like a pratfall. A stolen bit from Goodfellas tries to turn ditching drugs into a comedy of errors, then dope sickness is spun as if it’s scatological humor. None of this lands. Instead, it all just stinks like a fart in an elevator, lingering and inescapable. Did I mention how damn long this movie feels?
Calling a movie “too long” is often derided as a cheap complaint, but it’s one frequently taken out of context. The problem is not that Cherry is two hours and 22 minutes. The problem is that Cherry feels like an eternity. And in this eternity, we are trapped with a repugnant protagonist, who is not as funny, charming, or smart as he thinks he is. Even given to the charismatic wonder that is Holland, this anti-hero earns contempt instead of empathy. This is a failing of the Russos. Whatever was in the book, they chose a creative route that didn’t explore the themes presented, but treats serious issues as shallow spectacle. So in the end, Cherry bombs.
“Cherry” streams Friday on Apple TV+.