Who ‘Uncharted’?

Tom Holland’s botched video-game adventure

Uncharted, a numbingly familiar adventure movie with no real sense of adventure, begins with an open cargo plane dangling a string of enormously heavy, cubelike shipping pallets. Tom Holland, his Spidey-sense agility somehow now innate after all those webslinger appearances, hops nimbly from one to the next with clingy ease and a wide-eyed, gee-golly-gosh attitude. It’s a death-defying, logic-flaunting sequence more suited to gaming controllers than a local multiplex. No surprise, then, that Uncharted is a movie based on the bestselling Playstation series developed by gaming company Naughty Dog. Because gamers clearly thirst for passive experiences.

UNCHARTED★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Antonio Banderas
Running time: 116 mins

As cynically calculating as a Burger King Whopper, this noisy nonsense aims for the salty-sweet-fatty mouthfeel of wholesome treasure-map excitement, but doesn’t want to earn its calories with heavy-lift meat-and-potato staples like good storytelling or emotionally intriguing characters. Leave that to the Poindexters over at Pixar. Uncharted aims for Indiana-Jones elation but tumbles into Pitfall!-level banality—cheap thrills on a splashy studio budget. Which means this klugey actioner falls back on star power for its few charms: Holland and Wahlberg prove that the most effective special effects are affable leads who breeze through all the visual bombast.

The Uncharted video game series follows jaunty, continent-hopping fortune hunter Nathan Drake through various perils as he—or, should I say, the gamer—deciphers clues and solves mysteries with mentor Victor Sullivan and sassy-sexy sidekick Chloe Frazer. So, too, does this cinematic iteration, which relies on energetic leaps of illogic as well as what gamers would call “teamwork-based objectives” to keep the story in motion.

The plot lays out some backstory stakes for Nathan (Holland), who grew up in a Boston orphanage with bad-boy older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow). His brother told Nathan they were descendants of Sir Francis Drake, with “pirate’s blood” in their veins, and that Magellan’s historic circumnavigation voyage was actually just a cover for some serious gold-hunting. Then he gets in trouble with the nuns operating the orphanage and runs away, dooming Nathan to a life of solitude and a string of postcards that the deadbeat sibling erratically mails from a litany of global tourist traps.

Now a gyrating bartender at a posh Manhattan watering hole, Nathan juggles bottles and pockets diamond bracelets from unsuspecting trust-fund ingenues until Victor (Wahlberg) suddenly pops up and introduces himself. He offers Nathan a chance to track down that Magellan gold—and possibly even find his long-lost brother Sam.

The key to this illicit venture is literally a key—namely, an early 16th century gold-and-ruby crucifix that also secretly doubles as a key. It also has a double, by the way, another ancient artifact that needs to be used in tandem with the first. Reuniting two keys involves crashing a tony auction house and enraging Santiago Mancada (Antonio Banderas), a nefarious scion of a wealthy Spanish dynasty. “Our fortune is dipped in blood,” the patriarch sneers at his son, even as Santiago embraces their dark past. The black sheep naturally has henchmen, including a burly Scot with a haggis-thick accent, plus a stylish, sexy villainous mercenary named Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle).

All of them want that Magellan bling—worth as much as $5 billion, insists a baselessly speculating Victor—and the wild goose chase takes them through cobwebbed subterranean tunnels in Barcelona and forgotten caves in the East Indies. It also means they barge through Cathedral basements, destroy 2,000-year-old Roman artifacts, and literally airlift 16th century Spanish sailing ships which remarkably do not disintegrate, even as they get smashed repeatedly into rocky cliffs as well as each other.

Those two crucifix keys? They seem to open every single hidden lock everywhere, by the way—even one at a local Papa John’s, where some rampaging fisticuffs and intense property damage don’t even elicit reactions from a single local policeman. Same for a sweaty underground nightclub where the owners don’t seem to mind when Holland sets some liquor on fire and sticks his key into a random ancient wall. That’s some pretty solid locksmithing, by the way.

Uncharted revels in its own phony-baloney realities and perilous pablum, all of which lack any sense of real danger, any sense of gravitational pull, any sense of chaos. The whole enterprise gives off a giddy vibe of banal safety-net fun that’s overwhelmingly underwhelming.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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