Set in 2036, as “Outside the Wire” begins there is a violent civil war in Eastern Europe. The United States are there as peacekeepers, using robotic soldiers called Gumps to battle a ruthless warlord called Viktor Koval (Pilou Asbæk), the Terror of the Balkans, who may possess a doomsday device. In the midst of this conflict is Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), an U.S.-based drone pilot who makes the difficult, long-distance decision to sacrifice two Marine lives to save thirty-eight others. Instead of being commended for saving lives, an ethics committee sends him to a demilitarized zone in Eastern Europe to experience real combat up-close-and-personal.
He’s assigned to work with Captain Leo (Mackie), a hardnosed veteran who’ll show him the ropes. “War is ugly,” Leo says. “Sometimes you gotta get dirty to see any real change.” The twist is that Leo is only five years old. And no, before you ask, this isn’t a militaristic riff on “The Boss Baby.” Leo is a biotech android, a one-man militia, designed to be smarter, faster and more efficient than everyone else. “My existence is classified,” he tells Harp as they head off on a mission to deliver a vaccine to a cholera break twenty clicks outside the wire. The operation is partly humanitarian, and partly to act as a cover to meet an informant with intel on Koval’s whereabouts.
“Outside the Wire” is a slick mish-mash of “iRobot,” “Chappie” by way of “The Terminator” and modern war movies like “The Kingdom.” The derivative story is a delivery system for a series of clichés, large scale battle scenes and nifty special effects.
The social commentary on the ethics of using drones during wartime and what constitutes acceptable collateral damage feels blunted by the movie’s propensity to blow away soldiers and civilians alike with what must be the highest body count in a movie so far this year. It’s an important and ongoing discussion in the real world but don’t look for answers here, just giant fireballs and the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons.
When the bodies aren’t dropping, the clichés are. It’s as if Leo’s speech functions were programmed by a bot who had watched a 1000 hours of 1940s war movies. He does, however, occasionally deliver a fun line. “I’m not an idiot,” says the “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” star. “That would make me human.”
“Outside the Wire” is a noisy time-waster that could have used some outside the box thinking to make its shop-worn story more effective.