If you didn’t know better, you could easily mistake Heart of Stone for the first big movie made entirely by artificial intelligence. The thrill-less spy thriller is full of wooden dialogue that no human has ever actually said (except on screen in another film) with most of its action scenes and plot points recycled from other, better blockbusters and executed with far less skill. (Christopher McQuarrie should sue.) It does, however, insert itself and its experiences into the story like an actual screenwriter might, giving AI a major role while still ultimately being little more than a MacGuffin and an excuse to insert Minority Report-like effects. Even its casting feels like it was led by an algorithm.
Yet apparently, this Netflix production was written by two actual humans—Greg Rucka (the perfectly fine Netflick The Old Guard) and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures)—and directed by another—Tom Harper (the lovely Wild Rose, and The Aeronauts, a movie that exists). If this is the future, with this being a copy of a copy (what Multiplicity warned us about), I fear for cinema.
There’s some semblance of a plot here, but it all serves just to get Gal Gadot (Netflick Red Notice) to kick ass on screen again. Rucka and Schroeder wrote the script with the actress in mind, but she makes for far less of a compelling action hero without the screaming Wonder Woman theme punctuating her punches. Here she just appears to be doing her best Tom-Cruise-as-Ethan-Hunt impression, but with none of the epic set pieces to match.
Gadot plays Rachel Stone (because of course the title is a play on her name on top of commenting on her supposedly cold approach), a member of an elite team of spies who want to make the world a more peaceful place. Their every move is coordinated by a predictive AI, with Jack (Matthias Schweighöfer, Netflick Army of the Dead) helping Rachel fight international arms dealers and other baddies from the safety of a control room filled with screens and augmented reality. The villains are trying to gain control of the AI, with our heroes trying to keep possession of it—and keep it out of the hands of those who would use its power for evil. It’s far less interesting to watch the protagonists try to maintain the status quo, which is why most movies center on trying to obtain the MacGuffin. Jamie Dornan (Netflix import The Fall) plays another agent whose charm is largely derived from his Irish accent, and Alia Bhatt (RRR, whose Hindi version is licensed by … Netflix) co-stars as a mysterious woman with murky motives. Yawn.
Heart of Stone joins the streamer’s seemingly endless stable of star-driven action films, but it does little to differentiate itself from the pack other than a few POV shots that simply serve as distractions. There’s no big action sequence, or even a single moment that merits any sort of feeling other than déjà vu. Harper’s movie (if its featureless approach can even be attributed to a director) is less quippy than Red Notice and less grim than the Extraction movies, leaving it in a muddled middle ground.
The press notes attempt to imbue Heart of Stone with some excitement around its female action hero, but there’s so little characterization of Rachel Stone that her gender doesn’t matter. She barely seems human. We learn so little about her, but it doesn’t feel like an intentional obfuscation so we can learn more of her backstory in the inevitable sequel. It’s just another example of the movie’s lazy writing. The issue could also be attributed to ruthless editing; the film feels overlong at two-plus hours, but there are definitely scenes on the cutting room floor. One character is introduced, and then is never heard from again, despite his peers reappearing later in the film.
Heart of Stone doesn’t feel like a real movie or even the dreaded “content.” Instead, it just seems like another data point in a sea of data points about what people want to watch, bolstered by insights about how other movies and shows with these stars performed on the service. It feels like it was created only to give Netflix another data point about what they should make next for people to half-watch.
“Heart of Stone” streams Friday on Netflix.