As far as I have surmised, Arnold Schwarzenegger does three things really well:
1. Be an unstoppable killing machine (either human or cyborg).
2. Poke fun at himself.
3. Secretly impregnate the help.
Unfortunately, only two of those relate to onscreen activity, and neither is required of him by the demands of Aftermath. Instead, the dramatic thriller finds the one-time box-office champ in Maggie mode: dour, dreary and even depressing.
In Aftermath, the near-septuagenarian Schwarzenegger portrays Roman, a blue-collar family man anxiously awaiting the return of his wife and daughter on an overseas flight. When he arrives at the airport to pick them up, he is greeted not with the joy of a reunion, but the tragic news that an accident has occurred: the midair collision of two descending planes, one of which carried his loved ones. Blame is placed on white-collar family man Jake (Scoot McNairy, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), illogically the only air traffic controller on duty at the time, although technically, faulty equipment is the real culprit.
But every tragedy needs a villain’s face, and Roman is intent on hunting Jake down to confront him and demand the apology he has received from no one. Meanwhile, the weight of reality bears heavily on Jake’s shoulders, threatening to tear his family asunder as well. (Perennial Taken victim Maggie Grace hits some nice, understated notes as his wife.)
Having successfully directed one Expendable through a more serious ringer before (Jason Statham in Blitz), Elliott Lester faces an uphill battle with Arnold in Aftermath. Schwarzenegger simply hasn’t the acting chops to pull off this kind of high-stakes drama, and his discomfort with trying appears more evident the thinner the material gets. McNairy is reliable as ever, but underserved by a script (from Javier Gullón, 2013’s unconventional Enemy) that keeps its thrills as separate as bookends and fills in all the minutes between with the maudlin processes of a grief-recovery workbook.
When our two leads finally meet toward the film’s conclusion, you may wish Schwarzenegger needn’t have bothered with knocking on the door, when the simple blast of a bazooka would have done just fine 30 years ago. That is the loss I feel. —Rod Lott