Everybody wants to find the undercover C.I.A. agent Tom Harris (Gerard Butler), who is marooned while on a mission in Afghanistan: the Taliban, an Iranian hound, ISIS, a Pakistani secret operative. The only people who won’t be on his tail are those looking for a good action film — the stupefyingly sluggish “Kandahar” isn’t it.
For his third collaboration with the director Ric Roman Waugh after “Greenland” (by far the best of the three, from 2021) and “Angel Has Fallen” (2019), Butler has picked a rather ineffective vehicle, just like when Tom and his translator, Mo, steal a car that promptly gets a flat as they rush to catch a flight out of Kandahar.
Not only is the pace tepid at best, but Tom is a bore, with at least three characters more intriguing than he is. Chief among them is Mo, portrayed by the excellent Navid Negahban (“Homeland,” “Aladdin”). An Afghan exile, he has returned home to try to locate his sister-in-law — a more compelling quest than Butler’s, whose prime motivation is … what exactly? Not being late to his daughter’s graduation in London? The nominal star is constantly overshadowed by his co-stars, who also include Ali Fazal as the dashing, motorcycle-riding Pakistani agent and Bahador Foladi as Iran’s answer to Inspector Javert.
More aggravating is the way “Kandahar” keeps bringing up girls and women — on a large scale, the Taliban oppresses them; on a more intimate one, Tom is an absentee husband and father — without actually giving any of them decent screen time. The lip service only makes that absence more noticeable.
Rated R for language and ridiculous roughness. Running time: 2 hours. In theaters.