‘Heart of Stone’ Sends Gal Gadot Into an Autopilot Spy Thriller  

There is a lot of debate going on in the entertainment industry about what AI will mean for the creative process. It’s just one of the motivating factors behind the ongoing writer’s strike, in addition to dwindling pay. But here is Netflix’s “Heart of Stone,” an action thriller that feels like it could have easily been created by some AI program. The streamer keeps churning out these throwaway shootouts that let the studio show off its ability to hire Gal Gadot and Jamie Dornan to star in them. In an ultimate flex, even Glenn Close gets thrown in for a brief cameo. Back in the ‘90s, this is the kind of title that would have gone straight to video. Today it forms part of a streamer’s gargantuan library. You can skip it or press play. Does it matter?

Gadot is Rachel Stone, an MI6 operative who forms part of one of those teams that make it seem like intelligence work is cheeky fun. ‘80s hits are played in the car and everyone dances or goofs off in the safe house. All the while, Stone shares flirtatious glances with colleague Parker (Dornan). But Rachel has a secret, naturally. She’s actually part of an even more secretive, rather needless intelligence agency only known as the Charter. They are agents plucked from other agencies who work together to do good, or something. Members are also identified through playing cards, like Jack of Hearts (Matthias Schweighöfer). After an opening shootout reveals a plot involving a young hacker, Keya (Alia Bhatt), another incident decimates Rachel’s team and she’s left nearly alone. It turns out there’s a scheme involving a vengeful former operative to take control of a program called Heart, which can do the usual like shut down power grids and spread global chaos.

Indeed, this is a plot a computer can spin out of processing the data of countless other spy thrillers. Every character is basically a robot designed to carry out twists and turns we can already guess. This is why the screenplay by Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder feels no need to adequately explain or build its world. What’s the point of the Charter? What makes it any different from any other regular spy agency hyped up for fiction? The only tangible difference seems to be that they have a dark underground facility where Jack of Hearts keeps track of everything on one of those CGI hologram screens borrowed from Tony Stark’s office. The device obsessing everyone, Heart, is another boring, recyclable excuse for the plot to move forward. When the surprise villain’s reasoning for wanting to spread chaos is revealed, it makes some sense (being bombed by your former colleagues in Chechnya is never nice) and would have made for fine motivation on its own. All they do with Heart once they activate it is switch off some lights, turn off the Charter’s AC and kill at least one important person in an elevator crash. Film students working so hard on those screenplays late into the night will weep. 

Most of “Heart of Stone” is multiple action scenes strung together by the airless plot. Director Tom Harper keeps them somewhat visually appealing. There’s an energetic opening standoff at a casino high above snowy peaks, with Rachel later speeding down a mountain with an illuminated umbrella. An exploding transparent blimp is also colorful. Gadot, who performs the entire role with low energy, delivering every line with a deadpan tone, is best when showing off what she learned in the Israeli army. She’s convincing when snapping some necks or firing her way through an ambush, but the dialogue she’s handed lacks the wit of a decent Bond or Jason Bourne movie. The filmmakers don’t play to her strengths. Never an actor of big highs, she was so good in “Wonder Woman” precisely because the role requires her to be a poised warrior Amazon with no sense of humor. Here, when she delivers a line like “that’s why you’re still single,” it drops with a thud. 

When the dialogue is paused the rest of the action scenes are distracting enough. “Heart of Stone” trots the globe for shootouts in Africa and motorcycle chases in Iceland. All this is done with a music score that seems borrowed from the last two “Mission: Impossible” films. An Icelandic truck driver singing along to Foreigner during a chase is the movie’s funniest moment. Spoilers can ruin a viewing experience, but how much can be spoiled about this movie? You already know everyone will come together at a secluded base where Rachel will trade kicks, punches and bullets with the villain right before Heart can truly be allowed to let it rip. Keya, who begins as a rowdy hacker, reveals her conscience near the end and switches sides. It would have been a more gripping reveal if the writers explained how members of the Charter get paid or if the agency comes with any benefits. And yes, the ending hints there are sequels in store. “Heart of Stone” thus serves a stiff offering of spies and twists who instead of suspense, deal in pure automation.

Heart of Stone” begins streaming Aug. 11 on Netflix.