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Review: A by-the-'Numbers’ spy thriller

A scene from "The Numbers Station."
(Handout)

Spycraft has long been associated with the use of numbers stations — shortwave radio outposts sending cryptic numerical messages over the airwaves, often in a female voice. The thriller “The Numbers Station” employs this low-fi, high-enigma gimmick for a story about a disillusioned CIA hit man (John Cusack) assigned to protect a pretty American numbers reader (Malin Akerman) posted in a bunker in the English countryside.

When the pair are ambushed in a brazen siege on the station, they try to suss out who their enemies are while overcoming each other’s increasing mistrust. The problem is that F. Scott Frazier’s story line sounds infinitely more interesting than the movie itself, a predictable hodgepodge of uninteresting psychological cat-and-mouse, dimly lighted action filmed by director Kasper Barfoed in standard-operating shaky-cam, and the tropes of that seriously overworked topic: the existential woes of the brooding enforcer.

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Akerman tries to breathe bouncy life into this two-hander, but Cusack is so committed to his character’s black-ops blankness, you start wishing that Akerman would tickle him. And if the prologue doesn’t tell you exactly where this is all headed, welcome to the movies, friend: See enough and you’ll realize that some cinematic code keys never change.

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‘The Numbers Station.’ MPAA rating: R for violence and language. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At AMC Burbank Town Center 8.

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