Cherry As seen on Inside the Film Room

“Cherry” scratches the surface of a number of serious issues – from addiction to PTSD – but never commits to fully exploring any of them. (Apple TV+)

Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo began their now-famous careers working on small films with little fanfare, which gradually opened the doors for their work in television.

It wasn’t until Captain America: The Winter Soldier that the brothers finally hit the jackpot with their first major studio hit. The sequel came next, followed by a tandem of billion-dollar Avengers films, and the Russos quickly developed a reputation for big-budget superhero films with grandiose visual effects and a die-hard fan base across multiple  generations.

When the time came to hang up the capes and do a non-MCU project, there was a lot riding on what the Russos would pick. It wound up being Cherry, in which the brothers decide to try and cram five different films into one, featuring disparate chapters and a narrator who acts more like a play-by-play announcer than the lead character. The end result is a muddled mess where the few redeeming qualities are just an afterthought. There are times when it’s cohesive and the story works, but the over-production and crowded screenplay throw up too many roadblocks.

Tom Holland as Cherry in “Cherry.” (Apple TV+)

When boiled down, Cherry is about a young Army medic (Tom Holland) who serves in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but when it comes time to return home from war, the battles continue — only this time against trauma and PTSD.

The film’s scathing views on American meddling in the Middle East, the treatment of soldiers while at war and at home, and the role of doctors in bringing about the opium epidemic are all worthy topics to explore, but maybe not all at one time. Holland’s character is the focus, as the film dives into his days as a young man bouncing from job to job, dealing with first love and loss, and signing up for the army. Essentially vignettes, these moments before the war have a certain visual and tonal flourish that’s intriguing and engaging. That’s unfortunately where the praise ends, though. While these stylistic touches are occasionally reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, there’s simply nothing new happening on the narrative front. It’s the same story being told in the same ways, just with pretty packaging.

Ciara Bravo as Emily and Tom Holland as Cherry in “Cherry.” (Apple TV+)

The tale of spiraling into addiction and robbing banks to survive is a dark notion. With the tone fluctuating between dark and gritty all the way to downright goofy — all in the same scene, mind you — the tonal whiplash in Cherry is enough to drive you out of the film entirely. In a single  scene, Holland will shoot up in the parking lot, grab his gun, and walk into a bank named “Shitty Bank.” While I understand the sentiment and get the joke, if you’re clearly going for a certain reaction, by all means do that, but don’t also try to be something else entirely at the same time.

Holland is once again the star of a film where he’s not slinging webs, and, once again, he does an admirable job. This one reaches a bit beyond his depth at points, namely because he’s just not old enough to pull off what the role requires. He looks like a high schooler most of the time, and, no, that mustache is not fooling anyone. His co-star Ciara Bravo delivers a strong performance as his character’s wife and fellow addict. Watching them spiral together is heart-wrenching.

There are a lot of important topics discussed in Cherry, but, unfortunately, the Russos seem more preoccupied with lights, cameras, and the technical aspects of filming, than focusing on the actual characters and what’s truly happening to them. With the exception of Newton Thomas Sigel’s stunning photography, there’s only surface-level satisfaction to be found here.

2 out of 5

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