Nicole Kidman in ‘Destroyer’ mostly just kills time

Posted at 7:04 AM, Dec 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-24 09:04:23-05

Nicole Kidman’s very busy year — including roles in “Boy Erased” and “Aquaman” — concludes on a dour, dark note in “Destroyer,” with the actress starring in what feels like a detective yarn from an earlier era, the distinguishing characteristic being that men normally occupied these roles.

Still, Kidman’s brooding, mumbling, unglamorous turn comes in a vehicle so fraught with clichés that the movie feels as if it’s stumbling about until the finishing stretch, which, while somewhat more unpredictable, ultimately comes as too little, too late to redeem it.

The movie unfolds heavily through flashback, which helps explain why Kidman’s detective Erin Bell is such a mess — estranged from her teenage daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), who has taken up with a sleazy boyfriend, and battling her own demons. The pivotal moments can be traced to an undercover assignment from years before, a part of her past that has resurfaced with the return of a figure tied to those events, forcing her to revisit a period she has clearly endeavored to put behind her.

It is, frankly, the kind of movie that was made with some frequency in the 1970s and ’80s — think “The New Centurions,” “Heat” or “To Live and Die in L.A.,” where this film is set — as the troubled detective/cop deals with society’s problems while wrestling with his (and it was invariably his) own.

The principal twist here is casting Kidman, who adopts a raspy voice to go with the sunken-in eyes of someone who has clearly seen too much darkness. (The film was directed by Karyn Kusama, whose credits include “Aeon Flux” and “Girlfight.”)

Although there are some good actors around her — including Sebastian Stan as her one-time partner, and Bradley Whitford as a sleazy lawyer living in a beachfront mansion who crosses her path as she embarks on the new investigation — this is strictly Kidman’s show, for better or worse.

Alas, the novelty of seeing her in this setting, coupled with the slow-unfolding mystery, don’t provide enough incentive to recommend a movie that generally pales alongside better forays into this genre, and which is presented in such a sullen, straightforward fashion as to bring nothing particularly new or interesting to the well-populated world of L.A. noir.

The handling of the movie — from its preview at the Telluride Film Festival to its late-December release — suggests that the producers were hoping for awards recognition, and the Golden Globes, historically a starry-eyed affair, dutifully obliged with a nod to Kidman.

The actress has certainly enjoyed a strong and eclectic run of late — including her work in the HBO miniseries “Big Little Lies” — but the only thing “Destroyer” is likely to kill is about two hours of your time.

“Destroyer” premieres Dec. 25 in the US. It’s rated R.