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“Freelance” is barely a movie. Sure, it’s got a budget ($40 million!), a semblance of a plot, and stars that you’ll recognize, but none of it was developed beyond the bare minimum to get released on VOD and in a few theaters. It is a defiantly lazy work, a project that echoes better films when it’s doing anything. The most impressive thing about Pierre Morel’s film is how it takes two actors as generally likable as John Cena and Alison Brie and makes them such bland avatars for actual people that they fade into the dull background of action-comedy noise this “movie” tries to achieve.

Cena plays the AI-name-generated Mason Pettits, a former special ops soldier who is introduced on a mission gone horribly awry—after all, he needs some trauma as a defining character trait. Well, that and a rocky marriage (to a depressingly wasted Alice Eve) and a consistently quizzical look like when my dog hears a word she knows. Mason is approached by his former boss (Christian Slater) for a job as the bodyguard for a journalist named Claire Wellington (Brie) as she travels to a fictional war-torn country named Paldonia to interview the President, Juan Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba). Shortly after arrival, they’re thrust into action when they get stuck in an assassination attempt and coup on President Venegas, sending them into the jungles of this make-believe country with no identity or history that can be read on-screen at all other than “foreign place.” 

There’s an oppressive nothingness to “Freelance.” No romance. No comedy. No action. Sure, there are half-hearted attempts at those things, but none of it connects because this film doesn’t have an ounce of artistry behind it. I’m a sucker for a fun rom-com/adventure movie—I even kinda liked “The Lost City”—and a fan of Cena’s brand of action hero and most of Brie’s entire career, and I found the experience of “Freelance” draining. The various sparks needed for a film like this—chemistry between performers, believable stakes, unexpected action beats—are missing. It’s like watching an outline for a film instead of the final product.

The opposite was once true for Morel, who burst onto the scene with “District 13,” a movie that explodes with life in every frame. He then cemented his potential as an international action director with “Taken.” But that filmmaker appears to have been sanded down by the industry, left here to paint by numbers with boring cinematography, a complete lack of cultural depth, and uninspired action. At a certain point, even the actors start to look bored. When Brie’s character says, “That was pretty damn cool,” and looks at Cena like both of them know they’re in a movie, I muttered, “I don’t believe you.”

In theaters now.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Freelance movie poster

Freelance (2023)

Rated R for violence and language.

109 minutes


John Cena as Mason Petit

Alison Brie as Claire Wellington

Juan Pablo Raba as President Juan Venegas

Alice Eve

Marton Csokas

Christian Slater






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