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Girl power outage – ‘The 355’

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We’ve reached that time on the movie calendar where theatrical offerings tend to land in one of two categories:

  1.     Wider expansion of late-year award contenders, or
  2.     Movies that are various flavors of not good

You can probably guess into which category the new film “The 355” falls.

The latest project from director Simon Kinberg, working from a script he co-penned with Theresa Rebeck, “The 355” is an attempt to craft some sort of high-end spy franchise, one ostensibly intended to place women at the forefront. And while it does foreground female characters, it never really finds its way beyond that, resulting in slipshod plotting and vaguely inexplicable motivations that undermine what very well may have been a good faith effort.

While there are occasional flashes of something more – thanks in large part to the talented cast – the film ultimately fails to resonate – its action sequences are muddy and its twists are telegraphed. Thus viewers are left with nothing more than an empty and unengaging action movie, the sort of forgettable mediocrity that fits right into the chilly box office winter.

We hit the ground running as far as nonsense goes. In Bogota, a cartel leader has invited mysterious billionaire Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng) to purchase a device that – in the way of all cinematic technology – is immensely and implausibly powerful, able to access any and all online systems through science. Oh, and it was designed and built by the cartel leader’s son, because why not?

However, circumstances arise (as they so often do) and the device is taken during a raid by a DNI agent named Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramirez).

But when Rojas looks to cash in, he comes to the attention of the CIA. Agent Mace Brown (Jessica Chastain) and her partner Nick (Sebastian Stan) are enlisted to run an op in Paris where they can get their hands on the device. They’re not the only ones looking, however – there’s a German spy named Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger) in the mix; Marie’s interference leads to a tragic outcome.

Suddenly, Mace is on her own. She seeks out an old friend, a former MI6 operative and cybersecurity expert named Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), to assist her in her mission to track down the device before it falls into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, psychologist Dr. Graciela Rivera (Penelope Cruz) has been sent by DNI to try and help Rojas deal with the fallout of his actions.

As these things so often do, it becomes a race against time. While each of these women has her own motivations for pursuing the device, the ultimate goal is the same for all of them. And so … well, I suppose this is technically a spoiler, but whatever … they find themselves teaming up, only to discover that it’s even more complicated than they thought. Their friends become enemies, their enemies become friends and the only thing they can trust is that they can’t trust anything.

It all adds up to a resounding meh.

It’s a bummer, too, because there’s real potential here. A high-octane action franchise based around espionage and driven by women? Hell yes. The possibilities are endless … so long as it is done well. And there’s the rub, because “The 355” isn’t.

The action sequences are somehow both too noisy and too bland, resulting in set pieces that are difficult to track and almost too dull to bother. The narrative is formulaic and generic, a pieced-together collection of tropes that is both predictable and nonsensical. There is no why behind any of the actions being undertaken – we’re never sure of the reasons behind what’s happening other than “the script says this is next.”

But really, the film’s biggest sin is that it just isn’t very much fun. There’s a joylessness to it that undermines all other aspects of the movie. If Kinberg could have found a way to evoke even a little of that spark, “The 355” might not have been that much better, but it would have been a hell of a lot more fun.

And while the lack of fun is a sin, the wasting of this cast is an absolute crime. This is an incredible collection of actors, women who are capable of the physical demands of action filmmaking while also possessed of the talent to lend real depth to their characterizations. We’re talking half-a-dozen women at the center of this film who are legitimately excellent, and yet … the filmmakers fail them.

This movie should have been a great vehicle for Chastain, who has shown both aptitude and eagerness with regard to making genre fare. But while she gives it her all here, she’s let down by the blah nature of the proceedings. It’s a solid lead turn, but the foundation is so suspect, it simply floats without support. Honestly, the same could be said for all of the women involved here. Diane Kruger and Penelope Cruz are both talented, but neither is given anything real to do. They soldier on, but they can’t elevate their surroundings. And Lupita Nyong’o deserves far better than this – reducing an immense talent like this to more-or-less generic British techie is just sad. Oh, and Bingbing Fan shows up about two-thirds of the way through to also be criminally underused.

(Oh, and if you’re wondering, the talents of the dudes are also wasted.)

“The 355” as an idea has so much potential, particularly when you attach it to a cast this talented. And yet, instead of realizing that possibility, we’re given a same-old-same-old action antique, a movie whose every beat rings familiar. We could have gotten something new with this one. Instead, we’ve seen it all before.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 10 January 2022 16:01

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