It’s not at all clear what the makers of Kandahar were trying to do. This is a weirdly mismatched film that switches gears halfway through. What it does in the first hour isn’t particularly good. Neither is what it switches to for the second. That leaves you feeling as though you’ve seen two bad movies when it’s over, rather than just one.

Gerard Butler plays Tom Harris, an undercover CIA operative working inside Iran. Posing as an internet technician, he rigs a nuclear facility to explode. He moves on to a new assignment in Afghanistan, hiring an interpreter named Mohammad (Navid Negahban) to help him navigate the country. His cover is soon blown, requiring Tom to make his way through hostile territory to reach an extraction point in the titular city. He and Mohammad face continual peril along the way.

The first half of Kandahar is incredibly boring. Too much time is spent hopping around between different Iranian/Afghani terrorist groups that are going after Tom. On-screen text is often used to tell us who the one-dimensional villains are and what organizations they represent. It’s needlessly convoluted, especially since the characters we meet here generally don’t return in any significant fashion once we’ve been introduced to them. The movie gives the impression that it intends to make a statement about terrorists, yet it never does.

That makes the second hour even more baffling. Instead of following through on any thoughts it may have been trying to formulate, Kandahar turns into a routine chase picture, with Tom trying to outrun his pursuers. None of it is exciting because, again, we essentially know nothing about the individuals chasing him. The story lacks a strong central villain, instead giving us generic “bad guys.” Action scenes therefore have no weight and fail to provide thrills. Director Ric Roman Waugh (Greenland) gives them a slick style, but the complete lack of substance undercuts that.

At one point, Gerard Butler seemed poised to be an A-list star. He’s definitely talented. For some reason, his career got away from major motion pictures. He’s instead settled into making B-grade action flicks. Some, like Plane, are kind of fun. Others, such as Hunter Killer, are not. All of them are ultimately interchangeable. He plays characters who are carbon copies of each other, and he plays them the same way. Tom Harris has an estranged wife. He’s promised his daughter he’ll get back home in time for a big event she has coming up. Sound familiar? The movie ends up dropping that entire arc because even it knows what a cliché it is.

The last 30 minutes do pick up slightly, as that’s where the action becomes most frenetic. It’s still too little too late. Kandahar is bland and forgettable, with nothing to distinguish it.

out of four

Kandahar is rated R for language and violence. The running time is 2 hours.