Here's terrible news: Sean Penn apparently wants to join "The Expendables."
That seems to be the underlying message of "The Gunman," a mundane thriller in which Penn plays (yawn) a former hitman trying to wash away the blood of previous sins. The film is directed by Pierre Morel, the fellow who turned Liam Neeson into an action star with "Taken," and the intent here seems to be the same: Transform a respected aging actor into a moneymaker.
Penn — who co-wrote and produced the film — plays Jim Terrier, a security supervisor in Africa by day, assassin for some shady entity by night. He's living with his pure-souled French doctor girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), when his obviously slimy boss, Felix (Javier Bardem), orders him to shoot a government official and then disappear.
Some years later, Terrier is doing penance by working for an African charity when a group of strangers try to kill him. Using ninja powers that weren't apparent in "Milk," Terrier instead kills them, but he gets the hint: Somebody wants him dead. So he heads to Europe to find out who.
First stop London, then Spain, where he finds Felix and Annie are married. No matter, he and Annie end up on the run, with Terrier pausing now and then to kill bad guys.
How Bardem ended up in this is anybody's guess, but then Ray Winstone's here, as well, playing Terrier's gruff old ally. Both probably thought, hey, it's got Sean Penn, how bad can it be?
Pretty bad. Penn takes every chance to show off his Hollywood-buff 54-year-old body, but the tough guy story here is so derivative it's embarrassing. This world does not need another aging action hero.
Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality
Running time: 115 minutes