Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Freelance’ on Hulu, a John Cena action-comedy that’s right off the rack

John Cena and Alison Brie headline Freelance (now streaming on Hulu), an action-comedy that transcends the Movie We Forgot Existed categorization to become a Movie We Never Knew Existed In The First Place. Directed by Pierre Morel (Taken), the movie has me struggling to find anything interesting to say about it beyond its reported $40 million budget, an investment that movie studios and distributors apparently deem disposable considering how far under the radar Freelance has flown since its fall, 2023 theatrical release. I’m pretty sure I could come up with a list of things that $40 million could be better spent on, possibly one thing for every dollar of that sum, with no. 40,000,001 being “prop up John Cena and Alison Brie in a lifeless generic action-comedy.” 

FREELANCE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: Mason Pettits is his name, and that’s a joke, because he’s played by Cena, and if there’s one thing that Cena isn’t, it’s petite. We meet him via voiceover, explaining how he dropped out of law school to join the Army and become a special-forces operative – always with the OPS in these movies, always with the damn lousy OPS – because you don’t cast John Cena in a movie so he can just be your basic grunt. Mason yearned to do something more than live a boring suburban life. But. One fateful day, his helicopter is shot down and he suffers a debilitating injury that leaves a big scar down his spine but quite clearly hasn’t affected his ability to work out, since Cena looks like an incredibly pink overstuffed muscle sausage. And here he is now, living a boring suburban life with a wife (Alice Eve) and a daughter (Molly McCann) and a crummy law practice, all of which reap the collateral damage of his discontent.

Something has to change here, so the wife kicks him out of the house after he encourages the daughter to deal with a grabby boy at school by not hitting him in the penis as she wants to do, but by chopping him in the Adam’s apple, which she did. And you know precisely what happens when you’re at your lowest point: Christian Slater enters the picture. He plays one of Mason’s former OPS buddies – if there’s one thing that forever bonds action-movie characters, it’s the OPS – now a private security contractor who wants to hire Mason to do a “total milk run.” It involves guarding Claire Wellington (Brie), a disgraced journalist looking to revive her career by interviewing Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba), the president of the (fictional) South American country of Paldonia. Is there a catch? There’s always a catch: Remember the mission that ended Mason’s military career? It was to take out Venegas. And Venegas won that skirmish, since he downed Mason’s helicopter, killing a bunch of his pals and nearly crippling him.

Despite all this, Mason allows himself to be talked into earning an “easy” $20k. So he does and the gig goes without a hitch and the movie’s over, the end! No! That’s a lie! It goes quite poorly, to be honest, because Mason and Claire have barely hung out with Venegas before guerrilla forces attempt to assassinate the president and pull off one of them there coop-dee-tats. Milk run my ass! But Mason still has It, and he manages to save his and Claire’s and Venegas’ asses, and they’re soon on the run through the jungle, dodging bullets and bantering and accidentally seeing each other naked, you know, shit like that. 

Venegas is a slick charmer who doesn’t quite strike one as the cruel dictator dictated by his reputation, and Claire isn’t quite the arrogant scoop hound see seems to be, and Mason is obviously more than just a slab of muscle covered in stretchy pink skin, but they aren’t quite people either, because they’re Movie Characters being forced to do Movie Character things, which so rarely resemble real people things. The plot gets more complicated, and I won’t give any of it away, but even if I did, it’s so inconsequential, y’all wouldn’t care, if y’all are even out there, reading about a movie y’all don’t know exists. Hello? Anybody home? Knock knock knock? Ding-dong? Ditch? Yep. Ditch.

FREELANCE MOVIE STREAMING
Photo: Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Stuffed into an office chair behind a desk, Cena looks like a live-action Mr. Incredible, discontent with his life of inaction. And if you’re looking for a halfway-decent update of the romantic tension and jocular action-comedy of Romancing the Stone, you’re better off firing up The Lost City, which was at least half-written, whereas Freelance is barely written at all.

Performance Worth Watching: Cena, Brie, Raba – they’re all pretty good here, to be fair. I’m no Cena hater, although his movies are often crappo, like this one, and he was even the best thing about that last Fast and Furious movie, which Mad magazine would’ve called Fast Blecchs. Where was I? I don’t know. I’m so bored by Freelance I’m just trying to entertain myself here. Cena’s fine in this movie. Just fine! 

Memorable Dialogue: As bullets zing by their heads, Claire shoots video for her story, prompting Mason to deliver the following line, which, by invoking the name of a director who wouldn’t touch a wack-ass screenplay like this, commits cinematic blasphemy: “Spielberg! What the hell are you doing? Stay down!”

Sex and Skin: Brief manbutt and lady underboob in a scene that thinks it’s funny but isn’t.

FREELANCE MOVIE ALISON BRIE
Photo: Everett Collection

Our Take: Congratulations to Cena for getting his Arnold Shot: low angle, grimacing, gripping a gigantic machine gun, mowing down the bad guys. You know the shot. It’s also the McBain Shot, which satirized the Arnold Shot a few decades ago, and therefore tells you what a lousy cliche it is now, nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century. 

There are moments in Freelance when you’ll wonder why, exactly, our protagonists are being chased and shot at, and the answer is simple – it’s because the movie needed something “exciting” to happen at that point, since the action-comedy formula dictates movement and destruction at regular intervals so the audience doesn’t lose interest. It’s not until after the bad guys use up a zillion rounds of ammunition in a futile attempt to kill Claire and Mason – yes indeed they survive without a scratch – that we learn why they were doing it. And while it does end up sort of making sense, it stands to reason that the screenwriters could’ve clarified the motive before the attempted mowing-down took place, because that would be linear logic, which is forever preferable to backwards-ass bullshit like this.

Earlier, I sniped that Freelance is barely written, which isn’t entirely true. Although the characters are wafer-thin paper dolls in need of real personalities instead of ones plucked from the shelf next to expired canned goods at Dollar Tree, the plot itself is overly complicated by half. There’s Venegas’ nephew and military general who are attempting the coup, and some villagers who help Venegas and Claire and Mason during the requisite second-act Moment of Reprieve, and some Christian Slater-related plot twists, and a third-party group of South African mercenaries led by a creep played by Martin Csokas. You will be invested in exactly none of this crap, although I’ll admit to being irrationally enraged by the scene in which a doughy Csokas somehow manages to get the best of Cena in what amounts to a wrestling match, despite the fact that Cena is built like a Hulk-and-a-half and actually used to be a wrestler. At least Freelance gave me one lousy stupidass thing to give a shit about, which is the flimsiest silver lining I can possibly ascribe to this gross mediocrity. 

Our Call: Freelance? More like Pee Pants! SKIP IT. 

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.