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I expected “Atomic Blonde” to be an atomic bomb, a thermonuclear dud featuring a tall, skinny, bisexual James Bond played by a tall, skinny, gun-hating South African. What I got was . . . .

A Plot

And a well-worn plot at that. Atomic Blonde takes place during the weeks before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a world-changing event that presaged the collapse of the old Soviet Empire and the swift relocation of its capital from Moscow to San Francisco.

A Stasi double agent code-named “Spyglass” (maybe the code name “Double Agent” was taken) wants to defect to the West with a list of espionage agents, counter-agents, double agents, triple agents and real estate agents, and all the dirty deeds that they’d done dirt cheap. It’s such an intel bonanza that everybody wants The List bad enough to kill for it. Many times over. Which they certainly do.

Missing microfilm is a tired spy movie trope that never seems to go out of style even though it should. On the MacGuffin scale, The List is left in the dust by Rosebud, the Maltese Falcon and whatever shiny thing Marcellus Wallace stuck in that briefcase.

When a British spy named James Gasciogne becomes the first in a long line of agents killed for The List, Her Majesty’s Secret Service dispatches MI6 Deluxe Super-Agent Extraordinaire Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to a divided Berlin to bring home the dead agent’s body and The List (not necessarily in that order) and to expose a traitor in Berlin code-named “Satchel.”

Broughton is tall, lanky, brilliant, expert in hand-to-hand combat and firearms, hits from both sides of the plate and so blonde that the audience needs shades.

Upon landing in Berlin, Broughton is immediately picked up by the KGB, possibly for the capital crime of impersonating a fashion model.

Extreme violence ensues, making it clear to the audience, popcorn vendors and solicitors for The Will Rogers Home for Unwed Actors that The List is very important, Satchel is a sneaky bastard, the body count is going to be monumental and Agent Gasciogne is going to be ripening on that Berlin slab for a long time before his body gets shipped back to Blighty.

All issues will be resolved in the closing scenes, but until then there will be double-crosses, triple crosses, quadruple crosses, right crosses, Iron Crosses – this plot has more crosses than Forest Lawn, and almost as many bodies.

Speaking of right crosses and bodies, this movie features . . . .

Fight Scenes Galore

In fact, this flick seems like a bunch of fights and car crashes strung together ad nauseum. The fights are among the most intense and vicious on film, with the tall skinny star doling out a lot of the physical punishment while withstanding heavy blows that would kill a Lipizzaner.


Compared to the soon-to-be-famous stairway battle in “Atomic Blonde,” the blistering, life and death sleeping-car brawl in “From Russia With Love” between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw now seems like a giggling wrestling match between lovestruck English public school boys. The only way to make these scenes more violent would be to actually bump off a few actors on camera, an idea that’s likely percolating among Hollywood big shots right now.

In some of the fights, speeding cars, hands and feet reign supreme, supplemented however by knives, sticks, stiletto heels, articles of home décor, a garden hose, a garrote, an ice pick, a large desk phone of sturdy German manufacture, major kitchen appliances, a hot plate, a skateboard, car bumpers, car doors, car keys and any other improvised weapons that might prove effective, with just enough Makarov rounds popped off to alert the viewer to what’s coming next.

What’s coming next includes gun fights with bloodshed of John Wickian proportions, including numerous head shots with gore and spray aplenty. John Wick fans have seen the shots before, many times over. A bad guy takes one to the dome, turning his coconut into Old Faithful and spattering the walls with red, red vino, brain matter and a few spritzes of Ronco GLH-9 hair-in-a-can. Call it “the Wickochet Shot” if you will, but whatever part of the budget for “Atomic Blonde” that didn’t go toward peroxide for Theron’s coiffure was spent on buckets of Red Dye #2 for the walls.

David Leitch, the former stunt double who helmed “Atomic Blonde,” was also the uncredited co-director of “John Wick,” so nothing less than a plethora of exploding heads was expected. Moreover, to prepare for “Atomic Blonde,” Theron trained with Keanu Reeves (her former co-star in “The Devil’s Advocate”), who was tuning up his death-dealing skills as he practiced for “John Wick Chapter 2.” For the most part, Theron’s physical and gun training seems to have paid off, although she did perform more needless press checks than a Secret Service guard after a Presidential news conference.

Speaking of fights, it’s a good thing that the U.S. never had to fight the Russians and the East Germans, because if one believed this movie, those boys could take more punishment and are immune to more pain than any hopped-up Philippine Moro. Stab them, choke them, run them over, crack their heads, shoot them, kick them squarely in the Hodensack, it doesn’t matter. Even with car keys embedded in their cheeks, you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them. And they come back over and over and over, like Jason on the first day of summer camp.

But just to prove that’s it’s not only about the violence, “Atomic Blonde” also features . . . .

Lesbian Love Scenes!

Hot diggity dog! Now we’re talking the stuff of Hollywood legend. Between acts of bloody wet work, English Agent Broughton and French Agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) manage to sneak away for some steamy wet work, just to relieve stress and pump up ticket sales.

Whether these scenes are a feature or an embarrassment is up to the viewer, but it’s worth noting for the record that despite appearing together in ten movies, six novels and at least one video game, James Bond and Felix Leiter never bumped uglies. Not together anyway.

Still, Boutella’s smoky sensuality can’t be ignored, nor can the fact that, at age 41, Theron looks her best while fully clothed.

Speaking of being fully clothed, what seems to make the most impact isn’t the sex or violence, it’s . . . .

Cool Clothes and A Great Sound Track

Theron puts on a dazzling fashion show with her fabulous vintage Dior, Saint Laurent, Galliano and Burberry styles, oversized sunglasses and wild footwear, while the rest of the cast, save Boutella, looks like their attire was fished from an East German Goodwill box. The well-dressed Theron dominates every scene, due in no small measure to the fact that she’s at least 6’2” in that wild footwear and taller than most of the cast.

People of a certain age who lived through the Cold War remember it as a frightening time for some, with Berlin as one of several hot spots voted most likely to turn the cold war hot. The music selected for this film reflects the fear and paranoia of the time, and each tune is well placed to advance the story and make people of a certain age all dewy with nostalgia.

Viewers who ‘memba Nena’s “99 Luftballons ” (“99 Red Balloons” in the English-language version), “Major Tom,” “Under Pressure,” “Der Kommisar,” “London Calling,” and any synth-pop of the time by Depeche Mode, will enjoy the period sound track (with really good covers). Viewers who do not remember the collapse of the Soviet Union should would be better served by watching “Baby Driver” or “Despicable Me 3.”

A listener may be excused for believing that yesterday’s music was better than today’s. Okay, so “99 Red Balloons” isn’t “99 Problems,” but the older number is still an evocative and tuneful little ditty in German. And besides, “Ich habe 99 Probleme, aber eine Hündin ist nicht eins” just doesn’t sound right, does it?

While Atomic Blonde doesn’t attain the brooding, bleak atmosphere of “Funeral in Berlin” or “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” – both set at the height of the Cold War, not at the end of it — the music helps to build the correct mood for a period thriller. In any case, the sound track and costumery is better than this film’s . . . .

Mediocre Acting and Directing

Theron struts through “Atomic Blonde” like it was a commercial for Dior J’Adore, right down to the runway horse walk. Trying to affect a jaded, Harry Palmer-ish (see “Funeral in Berlin”) cynicism, she often just seems bored, even while dallying with Sofia Boutella — which is a trick that most men could not manage even after a bellyful of Buffalo Trace.

Surprisingly, though, Theron hits all the right, high-energy notes during her fight scenes, although she was obviously doubled in many shots. The thought that she could physically match the burly Germans and Russians who are trying unsuccessfully to kick her bony ass is, in a word, absurd. Nevertheless, if any movie needs a skinny female superhero to beat up hulking professional assassins who are built like refrigerators, Theron would be as solid a choice as anyone (with the possible exception of the even-scrawnier Angelina Jolie).

James McAvoy is miscast as David Percival, MI6’s Berlin section chief, and the part is cartoonishly miswritten. McAvoy’s Percival is a manic, smirking, drug using, whoring, intense and obvious loose cannon who acts like a nut and dresses like a schlemiel. Is that really the kind of person that the Brits would leave in charge of the most important espionage post in Europe, and maybe the world?

No, MI6 would have an Oxford grad who would be intense but subtle, sophisticated, oily and treacherous. It also hurts that Theron at 5’10” towers over the shorter McAvoy, to the point where she wears heels in most scenes except when onscreen with him, when she wears flats so that McAvoy didn’t have to wear stilts.

As for John Goodman, all anyone can say is: trim that beard, man. It looks like a hedgehog is eating your face.

Some of the blame for the failures of “Atomic Blonde” must fall on the director’s shoulders. John Wick fans will not be disappointed in the action, because David Leitch handles the difficult and deliriously wild fight and chase scenes with flash and verve. Unfortunately, Leitch often mishandles the pacing between bloodbaths, using Tarantino-like flashbacks, flashforwards, jump cuts and intertitles that might have worked in the source material but didn’t work onscreen.

Leitch doesn’t deserve all the blame. The great spy thrillers shot in the sixties through the eighties were based on works by stalwarts like Len Deighton, John le Carré and Ken Follett. Source material often determines movie quality, and even Hollywood hack writers and directors sometimes find it difficult (but hardly impossible) to butcher the work of master authors. In Leitch’s defense, it must be noted that “Atomic Blonde” was based on a graphic novel – what used to be called a comic book back in the period of this movie. Art it may be. Literature it isn’t.

Fortunately, “Atomic Blonde” has . . . .

An Oddly Satisfying Conclusion

In most movies, the conclusion merely ends the film and lets the audience know that it’s time to leave the theater via the well-marked exits to the left and right. Sometimes the conclusion saves the movie or tries to, as in the backwards and often-confusing “Memento” and the absurd but entertaining “Basic.” Sometimes, the conclusion is the entire point.

The latter group includes “The Usual Suspects,” which stands head and shoulders above “Atomic Blonde” in that regard. However, “Atomic Blonde” utilizes not one but two big reveals, and while AB doesn’t even come close to TUS in twist endings, most viewers left the theater feeling better about wasting 115 minutes of their time.

Oh, and “Atomic Blonde” has . . . .

Guns! Commie Guns!

Fans of COMBLOC firepower will dig “Atomic Blonde.” Of course, Broughton and many of the villains wield Makarovs by the score, suppressed and otherwise, which is as it should be. Mirabile dictu, the suppressed gunfire sounded more like, well, suppressed gunfire than a burst of wet farts. That’s the good. As for the bad, the 9×18mm Makarov must be the weakest round in the history of the Warsaw Pact, suitable only for explosive head shots, since Soviet operatives seem to be able to withstand multiple center-mass hits from Broughton’s guns with no discernable effects.

Just to prove that she’s no Commie, Theron, who hates guns, does some fine shooting with a Browning Hi-Power. Theron also threatens Agent Lasalle with a snub-nosed revolver that she had hidden somewhere about her person. I don’t want to guess where.

An assassination with a suppressed sniper rifle is thwarted by – a whole lot of umbrellas. Silly, but I liked it anyway as the most effective umbrella use since “Singing in the Rain.”


As Cold War spy thrillers go, “Atomic Blonde” doesn’t. It’s an action movie with just enough time between bloodlettings to run out for popcorn or to use the facilities. Owing more to “John Wick” than “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” it’s unlikely that “Atomic Blonde” will revive the genre of the Cold War spy thriller, which is too bad. The genre needed another Harry Palmer from “The Ipcress File,” or even a better Bond, James Bond. Instead, it got a well-dressed, comic book Blonde, Lorraine Blonde.


Caliber: 9×18 Makarov
Length: 115 minutes
Action: Wild, lengthy and brutal. Between the fight scenes: mild, lengthy and brutal.
Finish: Twisty
Price: $30 million. How much is that in 1989 Deutsch Marks?

Ratings (out of five bullets):

Style * * * * *
There’s way more style than substance here. Fight scenes are graphic and novel, befitting the story’s origin as a graphic novel. The music is great and the fashion is Oscar-worthy. After watching “Atomic Blonde,” you may not believe that the 80s was the smartest decade ever, but you might believe that it was the best dressed.

Reliability * * *
Theron dazzles in period couture. The acting is unexceptional, the dialog is pedestrian, the story is highly derivative and the pacing stumbles. The first reveal makes sense. The coda doesn’t, but it does pull the movie together.

Overall * * * 1/2
As a Cold War spy thriller, “Atomic Blonde” takes a back seat to many others that were filmed during the Cold War and based on something called “a book.”


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  1. No thanks. I’ll wait for John Wicks to murder the half of New York he missed in the last movie. He’s got a higher body count than Fat Man, Little Boy and Gojira combined.

  2. “Atomic Blonde” was based on a graphic novel – what used to be called a comic book back,,,”

    Just like appointing and launching a special prosecutor based on evidence contained in a fake dossier.

    • It is, after all, just another way of them trying to say, “guns are bad”, and “if you’re not a cold war, kill on 7 continents, spy, then you don’t need guns”, kinda thing.

    • Man you said it. Seems everyone wants to forget that this woman hates guns and the people who own them. Yet, she is happy to make millions using them. What a piece of garbage – hypocrite.

  3. I’m a casual moviegoer, I enjoyed the movie. I appreciated the magazine and press check whenever she was about to get into a fight or when she picked up someone else’s gun. The gunplay was fairly well done throughout, apart from the bullet effects.

  4. If it had someone other than Theron (or any other anti-gun hypocrite) in the lead I might watch it when it came to cable. But since it has someone who will use her interview time speaking in a condescending manner to Americans about our hobbies I won’t even bother setting my DVR.

  5. Nice review Ralph. I *snicker*ed my way through a lot of it.

    Also, because you reminded me that I have the Blu-Ray, I think this evening I will rewatch The Maltese Falcon… And if I really feel the need for more Noir maybe Double Indemnity as well.

    • Someone on this site recommended to me Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil.” I pass that on. Beautifully shot, and Welles’ character is so dirty you need a shower afterward.

  6. As always, Ralph’s turns-of-phrase are far more entertaining than this shaggy dog of a movie likely would be.
    I need only know one thing: Theron is a rabid anti-gunner, so she don’t get my money.

  7. Highly entertaining review Ralph. I’ll see this eventually(my 2 sons saw it and agreed John Wick 2 was superior). But how does it deserve a marginal thumbs up after that book-length screed?!?

    • “But how does it deserve a marginal thumbs up after that book-length screed?!?”

      Have you seen the drek it’s competing with?

  8. “the collapse of the old Soviet Empire and the swift relocation of its capital from Moscow to San Francisco.”
    Unexpected and very entertaining read (and vocabulary lesson). I spent a full tour in Germany, lived on the economy, and in all my attempts to habla in deutch, never picked up on “hodensack”.
    As well, I fully expect to see some entertaining facial expressions from my cohorts at work on Monday when I spring “mirable dictu” on them. Awesome!
    Had (and have) no intent of seeing the movie though. I’m sure hollywood will miss my contributions to their war chest but I refuse to add one penny to the net worth of any of the elitist colossal hypocrites that would steal from others the tools they so gleefully prance about with on stage. Just Nope.
    They can all, well…. hug my hodensack.

  9. love the review but won’t watch it due to the gun-hating Theron. I try to match my practices to my beliefs

  10. My wife and I saw this last week. (It was this or the emoji movie…)

    *** SPOILERS BELOW ***

    We actually had a fun conversation about it afterwards; there are a lot of “lessons” in this movie that Hollywood gunfodder usually misses:
    1. Guns run out of bullets;
    2. If you think your life is in imminent danger, keep your gun ON you, not NEAR you and especially not EMBEDDED IN FURNITURE!
    3. Fights are often messy and ugly, especially when they are for your life.
    4. Single shots won’t necessarily make the bad guy fall down. So:
    a. keep shooting until he goes down and stays down, and
    b. if you run out of bullets, get more, and go to 4.a)
    5. Keep going even when you’re battered, tired, and low on ammo.
    6. Friends are important. Friends you can trust are gold. Friends you can trust in a jam and who are competent are priceless.

    And … it wasn’t the emoji movie. 🙂

  11. Steven Crowder did a video where he tested the realism of the fight scenes in the the trailers to this movie.

  12. Too much smoking. Everybody in that film would be dead from non-small cell lung cancer within a month.

    Also, some Sig goodness was seen late in the flick, P225 I think as it didn’t have the notched hammer of the P6.

    Much as I like Furiosa/Kim Wylde Theron, you’re better off renting “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.

  13. “was based on a graphic novel – what used to be called a comic book back in the period of this movie”

    Actually graphic novel refers to a specific style of publication, a work originally published beginning to end as one unit (like a novel) instead of released as individual issues. Not to say there aren’t plenty of suits who don’t realize this and have wrongly tried using it as a more mature sounding substitute for comic book.

  14. $30 million. How much is that in 1989 Deutsch Marks?
    Left there in Dec. 89. Exchange rate was ~3.45DM to the dollar. So…103,500,000DM.

  15. Wow! Ralph gets my old guy, hard core movie fan award for his Harry Palmer/Ipcress File shout out.

    • Lol, forget cursing and exploding heads, your kids can handle that. It’s the two women kissing that’s too much. Take your kids to see Deadpool instead. No homosexuality in that one

      • It does not surprise me that people like to ignore the illnesses spread by casual homosexual sex. I know it’s not PC to discuss such things. But they did use lesbian sex as the best safest example since they have the lowest rate of HIV transmission. Would you have preferred gay men in BDSM attire pleasuring each other???

        As far as blood and gore goes the twenty year old film Saving Private Ryan was hailed as a great film because of is graphic violence. I have not seen that film and never will. Did you enjoy all the blood and gore when you saw the film???

        Many films are just displays of a blood lust. This film is one I will not see either. This is just soft core porn with unrealistic gun play by anti liberty creeps.

      • Timothy
        I did not seen Dead Pool. And would never expose my children to any “blood lust” film. But you did, didn’t you??? Does it excite you??

  16. Gun hating Charlize, that got Sean Penn to make his balls, oh, guns, into a sculpture.

    Yeah, my suspension of disbelief only goes so far, even with a lesbian sex scene.

    I’d go see Milla Jovovich in the role, she actually is a gun owner and loves going to the gun range.. She said one time how she feels that she might need to use her guns to defend her loved ones from harm at some point. That’s my kind of woman.

    • I’m with you there. The really sad part is Theron always wanted a role like this and when it wouldn’t come to her she went out and found an unpublished novel to work into her pet project. So we have a vocal anti-gunner deliberately attempting to make huge dough from a movie that portrays guns and violence as the answer to insult and injustice. I love the genre as much as anyone (Milla rules), but don’t come at me with the anti bullshit and then expect me to pay you for outright hypocrisy.

    • Milla is a gun girl? I’ve had a crush on her since The Fifth Element, I might be in love now.

      • I was hoping that Natalie was not a gunphobic, freedomphobic progressive deathphile. Not.
        Natalie Portman may play a gun-slinging cowgirl in her latest film, Jane Got a Gun, but in real life, she is a strong advocate for tighter gun laws in the United States.
        When asked if she agrees with President Obama’s recent effort to increase gun ownership regulation, the actress passionately expressed her support. “Yes, absolutely,” the 34-year-old replied. Portman admitted that while filming Jane Got a Gun – which she also produced – she was nervous about working with the weapon. She also said she was initially worried that the heavy use of weapons in the film would glorify gun violence,-
        And she supports abortion.
        Sigh. Oh well.

        • I loved “Nat” in “The Professional”, however my feelings for her have soured somewhat because of her anti 2nd. views.

  17. Just another politically correct “woman can too” movie. If it was Supergirl they would at least have a excuse for a strong female, but this movie was a joke. The fighting scenes are a insult to everybody who ever did some sort of fighting sport and the laws of physics.
    Sure woman are strong. Sure a single 120lb woman can beat up 3 trained men with her shoes. Sure. Keep telling you that and one day somebody might actually believe it. Which is probably the same day a woman gets horribly assaulted because she actually stands no chance against a man.
    Spend less time with your girlfriend in the cinema and more time on the range where you teach her how she can actually defend herself without getting her skull bashed in.

    • I’m tired of Hollywood’s pathetic agenda so I’m boycotting them. Most of the movies coming out suck anyway so I’m not missing much. That said, the remake of Deathwish with Bruce Willis looks interesting. Lot of liberal heads exploding already!

      • +1
        I saw the original Charles Bronson Death Wish in the theater when I was a kid. It’s still a great movie. I’m looking forward to seeing the Bruce Willis version mainly because liberals heads are already exploding over the movie trailer.

  18. One of the funnier movie reviews I’ve ever read…Kudos!

    As for the movie, Imma gonna see it next week primarily for Charlize, who, despite all your skinny references, is SMOKIN’ HOT! Saw her last in the Fast and Furious 8 movie. She may be skinny, which I doubt unless you like seriously fat women, but her face is one of the best in Hollywood.

    And if that ain’t enough, she does a LESBIAN scene! Looking forward to that. 🙂

    • I’ll second this. Ralph, you’ve missed your calling. This review is absolutely the most entertaining movie review I’ve ever read! Kudos to you sir. Truely excellent.

  19. This was a unpleasant, and forced read…not a good writing style.
    But at least you clued me in on a new movie.

  20. Awesome review. I was looking forward to this nostalgic movie that takes place in a time of my life where I was stationed in Germany. The music, fight scenes, and rapidly changing whose on what side confusion definitely made me live that period over again. I enjoyed all aspects of it and even the muted colors and soot covered clothing and building seems more representative of the time. Yep I’m gonna buy the 4k version and put it next to my John Wick, James Bond, and Born movies.
    Long live the 80’s… What do you mean it’s 2017?

  21. 1. Cold war spy movie
    2. Good action scenes
    3. Attractive women in every scene
    What again didn’t you like?

  22. Ralph isn’t paid to be TTAG’s Salty Senior Gun (or Knife/Stick/Fire) Movie Reviewer…… because of why?

  23. I have to question the sanity of anyone who has an internet connection, yet still willingly sits through 90+ minutes of painfully stupid, derivative schlock to see an attractive actress pretend to make out with another woman for a minute or less of screentime.

    And look, I’m not saying Charlize Theron doesn’t do it for me, but I’d say that any woman is gonna lose quite a bit of her sex appeal when she’s got the exact same hairdo as the lead guitarist from Styx.

    • Methinks a few of us are a bit outside the movie’s target audience; cynical and/or jaded enough, that it’s for the lulz and gunspotting instead of the seks.

      Hell, who am I kidding? That particular TTAG demographic has a population of Ralph, he rest of us aren’t that fossilized yet….. with the possible exception of one particularly crotchety old ‘smith.

      • I have to admit that I watched AB with a friend, and enjoyed it. We do lunch and a movie every week. This week, we’ll watch The Dark Tower. I expect to enjoy that, too.
        But then, I watch movies to be entertained, not think about which gun was used, whether or not the plot has been done before (They all have; there are only so many basic plots. Google give results that range from seven on up.), whether the sex or violence will adversely affect me (no one seems to care if the positive family values of some movies, or the humor of others will affect me at all). Movies are just entertainment to me, and very little else.
        Yes, I like certain types of movies, and AB was solidly in one of those types.
        But I do my best to not overthink them.

        • Noticing that shit is shitty is not “overthinking” by any stretch, and each time you have to turn off your brain to enjoy something, the ON switch is gonna get twice as hard to flip afterward.

          Trust me on this one; I got suckered into watching the first Transformers movie, and by the time the credits rolled I had forgotten how to do long division.

  24. Hollywood is crap, socialist engineering and abject stupidity.
    What I see is a 5′ 8″ 120 lb Female kicking multiple bad guys weighing 250 at 6′ tall plus butts without breaking a sweat.
    It’s like James Bond bedding multiple beautiful women half drunk, stirred but not shaken in between fights with the same bad guys.
    Pure B/S.

  25. Probably will take my two great grand kids, 4, and 5, to see this. It will prepare them for what’s ahead when they get to elementary, and high school.

  26. Lost me at lesbian love scene. Do not need to see that (i also dont really like seeing any sex scenes)

  27. I’ve got Charlize Theron, who is smoking hot, playing a blond, ass kicking secret agent who blows away bad guys like John Wick, lesbian sex, a lot of action, a lot of gun fire, explosions, and gratuitous violence? Sounds like this movie was made with me in mind! This one is at the top of my list!
    I don’t see what there is to not like……

  28. Most imaginative and entertaining review I’ve ever read, but as the expression says ‘you can throw a rug over an old mule, but you still have an old mule’ … and “Atomic Blond” is all you need to know about the movie to make your choice.

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