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Mizzou brutalizes Redhawks, takes step into the unknown in Annihilation

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The Tigers’ third feature of 2019 features strong performances, but leaves plenty of questions about what comes next.

[Editor’s Note: The above image featuring members of the Missouri football coaching staff and team has been altered using a still image from the 2018 science-fiction movie Annihilation. At no point did the persons depicted pose with firearms or military gear.]

Annihilation

Directed By: Barry Odom

Starring: Larry Rountree, Cale Garrett, Tucker McCann

Synopsis: Called to tackle the toughest part of their 2019 schedule, Barry Odom and his team stroll past the Redhawks and into the unknown.

Rating:

Everyone likes a happy ending, but sometimes the best stories don’t have easy resolutions.

Such is the case for Barry Odom and the Missouri Tigers’ third feature of the 2019 year, Annihilation, a presentation that features the brutalization of a football program and a look into the unknown future of the Missouri Tigers. While everything about it is commendable, it’s hard to get too excited when you know something else is on the horizon.

Set in the hot, muggy midlands of Missouri, Annihilation finds its protagonists at a crossroads. With the imminent threat of Week 4 and beyond lurking in the background, the Tigers must first fend off smaller, weaker foes in order to prepare themselves for the monsters that lie ahead. After initial defeat in Laramie, the Tigers come together to shoo away the Redhawks of Cape Girardeau, taking a step beyond the realm of the familiar and into the uncertain future. It’s a heady way to talk about the performance overall, but unavoidable given the amount of mystery that currently surrounds this cast and crew.

If you take it for just its merits, though, Annihilation more than lives up to its name. Feature back Larry Rountree III continues to stun with dynamic performances after his snoozer debut in Wild Wild West. He is everywhere on the screen this time around, a tour de force that makes sure you can’t tackle him or take your eyes off of him. And while Kelly Bryant, the 2019 season’s biggest star so far, has some eye-popping moments of his own, he mostly cedes the screen to Rountree, whose sheer power makes him must-watch. Dependable stars Cale Garrett and Tucker McCann both have stand-out scenes and breakout performer Nick Bolton continues to impress with a bruising presence. You almost feel as if he can turn the tone of a game with one hit.

Of course, given Annihilation’s apt title, it tends to drag in places. Once we learn that the stakes established here are more for the future, it’s hard not to lose interest in what’s going on. Things can become muddy or confusing, especially when newcomers like Connor Bazelak take center screen. Where once there were clean pockets, running lanes and explosive plays, there are now stuffed runs and third-and-longs, which grind the narrative to a screeching halt in places. That’s not a knock against Bazelak and his other freshman colleagues. It’s just clear that they aren’t quite ready for the big time. It affects the overall enjoyment of the movie, even if the end result remains the same.

However, a movie isn’t anything if it can’t stick the landing, and Annihilation does so... with a catch. While the stakes are low and the road confusing, Barry Odom and co-writers Derek Dooley and Ryan Walters establish a clear expectation from the start. The Tigers deliver on every front, never once losing the tone of victory over the course of the narrative. It’s never in doubt, so audiences can sit back, relax and enjoy themselves a little bit instead of worrying about what’ll happen to their favorite characters.

And yet, the ending does run into a snag in that it cannot answer questions about the future. While Odom has turned the trajectory of his 2019 slate around in the past few weeks, the box office bomb in week one still looms large in audiences’ minds, creating a gap between the hype he wants to create for his coming features and the emotion fans feel they can invest. Annihilation is a simmering thriller to be sure, but it doesn’t give us any answers on the stuff we really want to know about. Is everyone fully healthy? Will the Tigers be prepared for South Carolina? Are double-digit wins still on the table?

On one hand, you have to give credit where credit is due. Annihilation is a thorough, well-executed piece of work that doesn’t compromise its vision for the sake of training beginners. However, by the very nature of its premise, it’s still hard to see how Odom’s next feature presentation will play out. Audiences await with bated breath.