It’s either a bad time or (cynically) a good one to release a relatively small movie starring Armie Hammer, whose personal life has been very much in the headlines. Setting those marketing considerations aside, the film is “Crisis,” a weak attempt to chronicle the opioid epidemic “Traffic” style, through a trio of stories that wind up feeling like three mediocre movies in one.
The casting is certainly impressive. Hammer portrays Jake, an undercover agent trying to catch Fentanyl traffickers, with separate threads featuring Gary Oldman (currently seen in the much-better “Mank”) as an academic who faces a tough decision regarding testing of a supposed “non-addictive” painkiller and Evangeline Lilly as a mom whose son overdoses.
Yet as constructed by writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (“Arbitrage”) — in a movie billed as being “inspired by” reality, but clearly not beholden to it — each plot plays like a familiar variation on a thriller that might have worked in full-movie form, but which feels hurried jammed in with the others.
Oldman’s professor, for example, is an unlikely candidate to become a whistleblower, and faces not-so-subtle pressure from a pharmaceutical executive (Luke Evans) and his own university boss (Greg Kinnear), who clearly doesn’t want to risk losing any sweet corporate funding.
“Now you grow a conscience,” the latter gripes.
Lilly’s Claire overcomes her grief enough to begin investigating what happened — and pursue taking the law into her own hands — while Jake goes through a series of tense situations as he tries to maintain his cover while luring the international masterminds (one known only as “Mother”) into the open.
After a number of romantic roles — including Netflix’s “Rebecca” and “Call Me By Your Name” — Hammer makes the most of this hard-bitten crime setting, which also incorporates a personal motivation (again, a tired device) for his anti-drug crusading. (The actor recently dropped out of another upcoming movie, citing what he described in a statement to USA Today as “spurious online attacks” against him.)
Examining the painful toll from the opioid crisis has been sidelined a bit, understandably, during the pandemic. That promises to change not only with this movie but an upcoming two-part HBO documentary, “The Crime of the Century,” which takes a deep dive into the problem’s origins and the greed and corruption surrounding it.
The tragedy associated with such stories could provide fertile territory, theoretically, for a good drama about what went wrong and who’s ultimately responsible. That movie might get made someday, but “Crisis” isn’t it.
“Crisis” premieres Feb. 26 in select theaters and on demand on March 5. It’s rated R.