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Review: Tom Holland's giving it the juice, but 'Cherry' is the pits

Eric Webb
Austin 360
Tom Holland stars in "Cherry," a story of drug addiction, war and bank robbery.

Tom Holland is acting in “Cherry,” there’s no doubt. He might not be the right choice to play an opioid-addicted war veteran with PTSD who robs banks in “Cherry,” but hey, he makes his face wet in all the right places at all the right times. 

Holland — it’s OK to admit, you know him best as web-slinging Peter Parker in Marvel’s “Spider-Man” and “Avengers” movies — gets a cinematic spotlight to do major league thespian-ing in the new film from previous collaborators Anthony and Joe Russo, who direct this adaptation of Nico Walker’s 2018 novel of the same name. The film is in theaters and available on Apple TV+ on March 12. 

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"Cherry” spans the 2000s, but we meet Holland’s twitchy but earnest character robbing a bank and breaking the fourth wall in 2007. The script is packed with lines that someone is probably going to make their Instagram bio: “All built on nothing and nothing holding this all together,” “Take all the beautiful things to heart until they (expletive) my heart and then I die from it,” that kind of stuff. 

Then we get a plot device that’s literally become a meme — you know, the “record scratch; I bet you’re wondering how I got here” cliche. In 2002, Holland’s Cherry is a scruffy, sweet student, busting his butt at a pizza parlor, taking ecstasy and dealing out Xanax, when he meets plucky Emily (Ciara Bravo). They fall in love, but the promise of youthful romance is cut short when Cherry ships off to Iraq. The steps from that cruel world to our initial glimpse of a hollowed-out Cherry holding up a bank teller slowly but surely fill in. 

You might know him best as Spider-Man, but Tom Holland plumbs the depths of misery in "Cherry."

I want to be careful and not blame the awkward tedium of “Cherry” on Holland, who’s a gifted performer with real charisma. (We’ve all seen him lip sync to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on “Lip Sync Battle,” yes?) The Russo brothers, his captains from Marvel Cinematic Universe films like “Avengers: Infinity War,” wanted Holland for the role: “Very early on, I don’t even know that Joe and I wanted to commit to doing the movie at all until we thought of Tom in the role,” Anthony Russo told Variety. The filmmakers chose “Cherry” as a follow-up to the blockbuster superhero smorgasbord “Avengers: Endgame,” and they’ve said that their family has a close and deadly relationship to the opioid epidemic. Their sister, Angela Russo-Otstot, co-wrote the script with Jessica Goldberg.  

The intentions here are good. But man, it’s the feel-bad movie of the season. 

Did you think “Requiem for a Dream” too emotionally genuine, or were you curious what a Disney Channel remake of “Trainspotting” might look like? “Cherry’s” youthful cast is given the unenviable task of selling a tragedy made slick, and it’s not a good time. Holland is miscast, but you can see him putting in the work to sell lines about the hell of war, the joys of sex and the trials of Midwestern male emotional constipation. (I do not look at that guy’s face and ever think he’s had trouble telling someone how he feels.) Meanwhile, Bravo can’t keep up. Jack Reynor (previously of wearing a bear hide in “Midsommar”) and Forrest Goodluck are fun to watch as Cherry’s lowlife associates, but they don’t get near enough real estate to leave an impression. 

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In that Variety interview, Anthony Russo also said that casting Holland was a key part of making “Cherry” an “accessible, exciting, enjoyable version of a difficult film.” That’s the proverbial moment captured seconds before disaster.

Filmmakers have been able to translate the tragedy of drug addiction and the immoral slog of combat to film with real style that cuts the discomfort; see the two films mentioned above. The Russo brothers dig into the bag for tricks aplenty: a shallow depth of field when Cherry and Emily first meet, so that they’re the only two people in the world, saturated colors when Cherry’s tripping on ecstasy, a rapturous trip to Subway shot from the perspective of two people absolutely zonked on drugs, a series of blood-red establishing shots to set the scene of each chapter in the tale. An almost wordless, side-scrolling montage late in the film is by far the most successful flourish.  

Ciara Bravo in a scene from "Cherry."

There are many who would see themselves and their loved ones in the characters of “Cherry.” Points for creativity, and points for trying to tell a meaningful story about those left behind in America with the kind of packaging that would make people sit up and pay attention. But to crib a line from Holland in the movie’s opening, there’s nothing holding this all together. It’s a shiny, dour thing. 

Eric Webb is the Austin360 entertainment editor. Email him at ewebb@statesman.com and follow him on Twitter @webbeditor.

'Cherry'

Grade: D+

Starring: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Rispoli, Forrest Goodluck

Directed: Anthony and Joe Russo

Rated: R for sexual content, disturbing and violent images, pervasive language and graphic drug abuse.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Watch: In theaters and on Apple TV+ on March 12