Awkwardly arriving the very same day as “The Bricklayer,” with Aaron Eckhart as an ex-CIA agent with the titular dayjob, “The Painter” has Charlie Weber as ex-CIA agent who has taken up … well, you can guess. This more humbly scaled actioner likewise finds its uber-tough erstwhile operative reluctantly forced back into activity amid a conspiratorial hail of bullets. From that shared starting point, Brian Buccellato’s script finds its own path. But neither he nor director Kimani Ray Smith locate much credibility or suspense in an uninspired tale that also features Jon Voight, as well as Madison Bailey from the Netflix series “The Outer Banks.” Lacking in most departments beyond decent pacing and adequate technical polish, this forgettable thriller launches in limited U.S. theaters Jan. 5, and on digital platforms Jan. 9.
Weber plays Peter Barrett, who quit the CIA for the solitary life of an artist in the Pacific Northwest after his wife Elena (Rryla McIntosh) left him in the wake of an accidental shooting that terminated her pregnancy. Seventeen years later, living under a pseudonym, he is not thrilled to have been tracked down by teenager Sophia (Madison Bailey), who claims to be their daughter. This makes no sense to him — but there’s no time to puzzle it out, as his rural home is abruptly swarmed by heavily armed agents with apparent shoot-to-kill orders.
His lethal training kicking back in, Peter naturally dispatches all eight lethal intruders, then flees with his supposed long-lost offspring. They soon learn from his old agency mentor Henry Byrne (Voight) that the goon squad must have been sent out by “rather ruthless” younger Section Chief Naomi Piasecki (Marie Avgeropoulos), though her reasons remain temporarily murky. With assistance from flunky Agent Kim (Luisa D’Oliveira), she continues to send unfriendly fire towards the fugitive duo, as meanwhile they are also being tracked by a grinning young psychopath known as “Ghost” (Max Montesi).
It eventually emerges that all this has to do with a top-secret black ops scheme called Project Internship, to which all these principals are tied in one way or another. Its fiendish plot is a QAnon-adjacent paranoid fantasy involving kidnapped children brainwashed to be master assassins. That hook brings faint echoes of “The Boys From Brazil” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Without those films’ imaginative conceptual lift, however, “The Painter” never seems like more than a rote shoot-’em-up inadequately juiced by the kind of shocking revelations that are all contrived verbal explication.
Such twists arrive en masse in a labored climax, accompanied by more of the B&W flashbacks that have been sprinkled throughout. While director Smith keeps things moving along briskly enough, there’s no special stylistic flair to distract you from the narrative implausibilities, occasional groaner lines, or routinely conceived characters.
While most performers are fine within the material’s limitations, principal villains Avgeropoulos and Montesi are notably underwhelming. It doesn’t help that the film’s idea of scary behavior is having “Ghost” listen to techno music under headphones. Lamer still is giving Peter a low-budget “superpower” involving hypersensitive hearing, which means we get a lot of sudden-loud-noise jump scares. These aren’t good ideas, yet they’re the closest the film comes to having any original ones.
Shot primarily in British Columbia, “The Painter” is competent if unremarkable in tech and design departments. Nonetheless, it does represent a qualitative step up from veteran stunt coordinator Smith’s prior solo directorial feature a decade ago, the cannibal action comedy “Evil Feed.”