Stephanie's life is turned upside down when she becomes an orphan after her entire family is killed in a plane crash. Reeling from her pain, she travels down a dangerous path around the world to seek vengeance. We're not in the Upper East Side anymore, folks.
Working as a small-time prostitute in London, Stephanie's revenge tale unfolds with a chance meeting with journalist Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), whose stunning information changes the dreary trajectory of her life. It turns out that the crash that took her family away from her months ago was no accident. The tragic event was planned by a terrorist group and executed by an unidentified individual, only referred to as "U-17." Proctor's carefully collected intel points to university student Reza (Tawfeek Barhom) as the suspect.
Our heroine takes off to Scotland to learn more about the bomber. There, she comes under the reluctant tutelage of a disgraced MI6 agent known as "B" (Jude Law). Breaking Stephanie down before building her up — his training methods are especially vicious — B turns the heartbroken woman into a killing machine.
Stephanie now has the necessary skills, but taking out Reza requires specialized knowledge and connections in the global dark web. Enter Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown in a dad hat), a plugged-in assassins broker. Though he isn't convinced that Stephanie is who she says she is (she's assumed the identity of another killer-for-hire named Petra for the time being), Marc decides to play along, providing Stephanie/Petra with all the necessary information she needs to begin tracking down the elusive terrorist.
So, why exactly is Marc helping Stephanie when he knows that she's lying to his face? Simply put, it's because they've got chemistry. Each time that the pair meets up, their conversation is shrouded in innuendo and double entendre. Maybe they'll kill each other. Maybe they'll sleep together.
Fortunately for us, it's the latter. Unfortunately for us, director Reed Morano (The Handmaid's Tale) denies her audience the privilege of witnessing a proper Sterling K. Brown sex scene. Instead, she chooses to chop up the pivotal moment into steamy cuts of Stephanie and Marc taking far too long to kiss. Look, we're all grown here — give us shirtless Sterling already!
Stephanie's room temperature fling is cut short by an important update from B that leads her back to Spain, where she is finally able to hunt Reza down and pay him back for the heartache that he caused so many people by planting that bomb on that plane.
Only Reza isn't U-17 — Marc is. He's been supplying Stephanie with information about everyone involved in the attack so that she would take out the key players one by one, leaving him the lone survivor of the deadly plot.
Stephanie catches on to his scheme and is out for blood. She returns to Marc's home and greets him with a warm embrace, injecting a lethal dose of poison into her lover's back. Stephanie tells a dying Marc that he messed around with the wrong one. "We were both pretending to be someone else," she breathes menacingly over his writhing body. "I just did it fucking better."
The plot wraps up soon after, with Stephanie returning to her hometown. B, back in the MI6's good graces, appears out of thin air (as assassins do) to warn Stephanie that he never wants them to cross paths again. She obliges, but not before turning towards the camera with a sly look on her face. The end.
When the end credits scrolled, and the lights came up, it took a second to register that the film was over. I had just spent almost two hours watching Lively both get her ass kicked and kick ass (the actress did her own stunts and even broke her hand punching Law in a fight scene). The result, however, was the opposite of heart-racing. From street chases to brutal fights to a half-baked love scene, The Rhythm Section worked overtime to set the stakes very high for this action story, only for the plot twist to fall short.
Did I see Marc's betrayal coming? From a mile away. What was a million times more surprising than him turning out to be U-17 was the fact that we didn't get to see the guy shirtless (as you can see, I'm taking this very personally).
Brown is introduced in the second act of the film, and though his character is meant to have a huge impact on the plot, Marc fades out of the spotlight. We're not even given the opportunity to wrestle with the idea that Stephanie's lover has been the true villain of the story before he's ripped away from us, the end of his storyline messily resolved. It's a problem that rings true throughout The Rhythm Section — a lot of build-up without much payoff.