'Cherry' Review: Tom Holland Tries His Best To Save This Bloated Mess From The Russo Brothers

Full of shifting aspect ratios, changing color palettes, abundant slow-motion, and all sorts of over-stylized hokum, Cherry is so showy that it borders on laughable. Scratch that – it goes beyond those laughable borders, into the land of the full-blown ridiculous. In their first post-Marvel Cinematic Universe effort, the Russo Brothers want us to know they're very serious filmmakers. Otherwise, they wouldn't have picked such a serious topic – a tale of disaffected youth, war, violence, bank robbery, drug addiction, and more. But nothing here feels as gritty as it should. There's no stark realism, no raw honesty. Everything in Cherry is for show. Subtlety is for chumps. Instead, the Russos whip out a series of tricks that they seem to have picked up from music videos, Super Bowl commercials, and other, better movies. The end results are nothing short of disastrous.

"I'm 23 years old and I still don't understand what people do." So says Cherry (Tom Holland) at the start of the film, setting the stage for a constant, droning, maddening voiceover narration that will take us through several years of this young man's doomed life. We're well past the point of accepting that voiceovers should be a screenwriting no-no – voiceovers can work! And can work well! Just not here. Adapting Nico Walker's semi-autobiographical novel, the Russos have opted to have Cherry tell us exactly what he's doing and what he's thinking every step of the way, even though we should be able to glean most of that from actions, not words.

"I punched the bathroom mirror," Cherry tells us at one point, immediately after we see him punch a bathroom mirror. Yes, young man – we know. We just saw it. It's okay, you don't have to point stuff like that out to us. Perhaps the Russos realized that so many viewers these days tend to "watch" movies while surfing their phones, and they're trying to make things easier and cut out the middle man. Miss a piece of the action because you were checking Twitter? Don't worry, the ceaseless, incessant narration will fill you in! You could probably sit through this whole thing with your eyes closed and still get a basic gist of what's happening thanks to that ever-present narration.

Ah, but then you'd miss all the groan-inducing visuals the Russos have set up here. Cherry joins the army and talks about how it felt like he was a kid playing soldier – so suddenly, all the soldiers are wearing oversized uniforms and holding toy guns. Get it? Any time Cherry encounters a sign or a nameplate, it's been adjusted to be "funny." The recruitment officer Cherry meets to join the military is Sgt. Whomever. When Cherry goes to a doctor, the MD has a name tag that reads Dr. Whomever. When Cherry robs banks, the banks have parody names like Capitalist One, Bank F***s America, Credit None, Shitty Bank, or even just The Bank. Ho ho ho, my sides, they're splitting! Who are you to resist the unparalleled wit of Cherry?

Bogged down by the type of macho angsty nihilism that already felt dated back when David Fincher successfully played around with the same sort of thing in 1999's Fight ClubCherry clobbers the viewer over the head for a numbing 141 minutes, dragging us through the main character's troubled life. And we know it's troubled because he keeps telling us so. "Basically, I was being a sad, crazy f*** about the horrors I'd seen!" he narrates at one point. Wow, such poetry. It's the sort of florid misery-porn writing that might work in book form, and would definitely work as the words on some angry teenager's LiveJournal from the early 2000s, but here, in this long, loud, irredeemable movie, it's dreadful. I have nothing but sympathy for angsty teens – I was one myself. But that doesn't mean I want to spend nearly two and a half hours listening to them wax poetic.

When we meet Cherry, he's a sweet kid on the cusp of falling in love. He meets Emily (Ciara Bravo), and the two hit it off splendidly. The Russos stage their first meeting by blurring everything in the frame around the couple-to-be. The outside world doesn't matter – only these two crazy kids matter, darn it! And they're in love! Are you ready to swoon? Well, I urge you to please temper your swooning, because despite what we're told, again and again, there are zero sparks between Holland and Bravo. Don't blame the actors – blame the clunky, rusty script they're stuck with.

Cherry believes he's found the girl of his dreams, but the relationship appears to be in peril when Emily decides to go away for school. What's a moody, angry, lovesick kid to do? Why...join the military, of course. It's a decision Cherry almost immediately regrets, especially when Emily tells him she's changed her mind and she wants to stick around. It's too late, of course – Cherry has already signed on the dotted line, and soon he's off to war. War is, predictably, hell – and the horrors Cherry experiences there send him home a damaged young man suffering from PTSD. His fractured mental state leads him down the dangerous path of opioids, and tragically, he brings Emily along with him. Before long, the two of them are hooked on heroin. This leads to even further complications when Cherry starts robbing banks to pay off some serious debt owed to some serious people.

Cherry tries its best to not glamorize any of this. It's appropriately grungy and ghastly, but it's also all artifice. There's not a single moment here where we believe that Holland and Bravo are hooked on anything; they're playing dress-up. All the grimy, dark-eyed make-up and fake sweat the film applies to Holland's face looks like just that – make-up. Holland is really giving it his all here – but it doesn't help that he's saddled with a baby face that will likely have him looking like a teenager for at least the next five or six years. Even if you spirit-gum all the fake mustaches in the world to his upper lip, it won't change the fact that he looks too fresh-faced; too squeaky clean. Too nice. To his credit, Holland gives the role everything he's got – it's some of his best work, but in the end, it's not enough. He deserves credit for wanting to stretch himself beyond the role of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – but the material here just doesn't suit him.

In fact, it doesn't suit anyone. This is a major misfire that will have you scratching your head and wondering how it all came to be. The Russos have clearly built up a ton of goodwill from their smashing MCU success, and as such, I'm guessing no one wanted to sit them down and tell them their new movie stinks. I wouldn't call the Russos' Marvel work particularly well-directed – but it got the job done at least. We were in and out of the multiplex no worse for wear. With Cherry, the filmmaking duo has overplayed their hand. Given all the freedom they could possibly want, they're still unable to deliver. There are no so-bad-they're-good decisions here; no wrong-headed ideas we can at least admire on an ironic level. Perhaps that's the biggest tragedy of all: Cherry is not even an interesting failure – it's just a plain old, run-of-the-mill failure, and those are a dime a dozen.

/Film rating: 4 out of 10