Skip to main content

The Numbers Station: A Failure to Learn From

By Tony LaScala · April 29, 2013

The Number Station is one of those forgettable films that will be lost in the shuffle of action flicks unsuitable for the big screen. The film has a fair amount of exciting moments, but fails to hold the story together over the long haul of the plot. It’s a valiant effort from first time screenwriter F. Scott Frazier, but its lack of budget exposed the flaws in the script.

After hesitation to kill a civilian in the field, black ops agent Emerson (John Cusack) is re-assigned to a Numbers Station to protect encryption specialist Katherine (Malin Akerman). When a group of baddies attack the Numbers Station to steal the code and put out an international hit on the worlds fifteen heads of clandestine operations, Emerson must defend the code any way he can: including possibly eliminating Katherine from the equation.

It was difficult for the film to overcome my first impressions. With its cheesy early 90’s style stock footage intro sequence, generic Photoshop font credits, and opening scene riddled with poorly placed ominous smoke machines and a generic bar set piece with store bought glowing neon “bar” sign, The Numbers Station lost my attention from the start. The score alone ruined the movie for me, as it was “noticeable.” If an audience member is paying attention to a droning score on loop, your story needs work.

My attention peaked after twenty minutes when the duo of Ackerman and Cusack came into play; their acting chemistry carried an otherwise dull movie. After Emerson is told by an operative on the other end of an emergency line to “retire” his broadcaster, Cusack struggles with following protocol or protecting the woman he’s grown fond of. However, the age disparity between Cusack and Ackerman is blatantly obvious, and their romantic chemistry is never settled. The whole film I’m trying to decide whether they have a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, or a father/daughter relationship. It’s heartbreaking to watch an actor whom I respect walk the aging leading man road paved before him by so many. Cusack is undeniably talented, his quirkiness and wit have bolstered countless films, and in The Numbers Station he’s misused as a hard edged by the books agent with little compassion or tact.

The screenplay is the first credit for Frazier, and hopefully he gets another crack at Hollywood because the film showed some promise. A scene at the midpoint of the film between Akerman and Cusack renewed my interest just as I was dozing off. A conflict finally arises between them when Akerman questions Cusack’s lack of empathy. Sadly scenes like these are buried under a mountain of overwritten “student film-like” plot turns. A “hack” scene in which Emerson shoots Katherine, only to reveal a few moments later it was a fantasy sequence set my blood boiling. This cheap pop for emotion is common in straight to video B movies, but for a movie with a theatrical release it’s disappointing. But the forced dialogue and eye rolling moments aside, the plotting of the story with its mysterious unseen antagonist reminded me a lot of the late great Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. Not a bad play to be compared to.

The films not worth your fun money, and it might not even warrant a rental when it reaches home release, but a savvy screenwriter can learn a lot from the efforts of Frazier. It takes a lot to get a movie made, and this film had promise on the page that didn’t translate to screen. With its lack of budget, unsettling score, and generic script: the The Numbers Station will not add up to box office success.