Film reviews and more since 2009

The Retirement Plan (2023) review

Dir. Tim Brown

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

There are bad movies that feel even more offensive because of how boring they are. They suck your time and you’re left as a weary-eyed witness to the ill-conceived events occurring on-screen. There are also bad movies that are at least kinetic and entertaining. If The Retirement Plan had to pick either-or path, I’m at least modestly pleased (and slightly relieved) to report it took the latter. Even its iMovie-level on-screen text and bizarrely abrupt ending were somewhat appreciated by this critic.

Letterboxd user Darnilious Balthazar (a good follow, I might add) brought up an interesting point in his own write-up of the film that I can’t help but share. The post-COVID theatrical landscape has seen more-than-a-handful of curiously lower-budget, almost completely un-marketed movies make it to the big screen. Ostensibly, these are movies that couldn’t secure a streaming deal with the likes of Netflix, Hulu, or the field. With the cost of theatrical distribution being as low as ever — thanks to DCP as opposed to 35mm reels, which were prohibitively expensive for smaller studios — a film like The Retirement Plan can find itself in over 1,000 theaters before exiting just as swiftly as it entered (see last month’s misbegotten Back on the Strip for another example).

The Retirement Plan is at least aware that it has an A-list cast on its hands, and most of the major players are comically entertaining enough to keep you marginally in-tuned with the nonsense as it unfolds over 103-briskly paced minutes. The film opens with Ashley (Ashley Greene) and her husband trying yet failing to get their recently gunned-down friend to a hospital. They are caught up in the middle of a criminal enterprise involving a stolen hard-drive, which is so serious that Ashley sends her young daughter, Sarah (newcomer Thalia Campbell), on a plane from Miami to the Cayman Islands where she’ll reunite with her grandfather.

Ashley’s estranged dad is Matt (Nicolas Cage channeling his inner, older Charlie Harper), an alcoholic beach bum with a very opaque past. Ashley lands in the Caymans the following day, but as a hostage, taken in by goons who work for Donnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a crime boss who desperately needs that drive back. Sarah eventually ends up in the custody of Bobo (Ron Perlman), a deceptively empathetic mob enforcer who bonds with the young girl over Othello, morals, and Bobo’s childhood. This is an unexpected yet welcomed curveball from writer/director Tim Brown, who also makes effective use of Ron Perlman’s softer side.

Some of the film’s strongest comedic beats come when Perlman has to do the thankless task of calling to inform Donnie that the elderly yet acrobatic former assassin Matt has killed more of his henchmen. “I’m telling you boss,” he says, “the old guy keeps killing everybody. Everybody!” Haley is given some of the film’s most ridiculous lines of dialog, which mainly consist of interjecting “fuck” or some variation of it every two or three words. Haley is completely manic in this film, even one-upping Cage in more than a few scenes. Not an easy feat in a film this ridiculous.

The Retirement Plan goes off the rails rather quickly. The entire film is predicated off of a very lame MacGuffin, one that never adequately gets contextualized even as the characters insist its importance. It also haphazardly introduces two agents in Grace Byers and Joel David Moore, who are after Donnie’s hard-drive for nefarious purposes. Whenever it isn’t focused on either Cage’s Matt or Perlman’s Bobo, The Retirement Plan stalls mightily, and can’t seem to commit to being a serious crime caper or a shameless B-action movie.

The film actually has a lot in common with the works of the late Elmore Leonard, the beloved pulp fiction author whose books centered around crimes, misdeeds, and scandalous relationships. While not based on a Leonard story, The Retirement Plan illustrates how difficult it is to make this kind of material successful. Many films have tried — The Big Bounce (2004) with Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman and Just Getting Started (2017), also starring Freeman, actually — and many have struggled with the tricky mix of brutal violence and breezy comedy in gorgeous locations. The unhinged performances from the recognizable castmembers in Tim Brown’s film almost make you forget how his script feels like a first draft and the absence of any real stakes. Almost.

NOTE: The Retirement Plan is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ashley Green, and Thalia Campbell, Ron Perlman, Jackie Earle Haley, Joel David Moore, Ernie Hudson, Grace Byers, Rick Fox, and Lynn Whitfield. Directed by: Tim Brown.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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