2022, PG-13, 122 mins.
Jessica Chastain as Mason 'Mace' Brown / Lupita Nyong'o as Khadijah / Penélope Cruz as Graciela / Diane Kruger as Marie / Fan Bingbing as Lin Mi Sheng / Sebastian Stan as Nick / Edgar Ramírez as Luis Rojas / Emilio Insolera as HackerDirected by Simon Kinberg / Written by Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg and Bek Smith
The new spy action thriller THE 355 shows what happens when noble minded intentions meets mediocre scripting on pure autopilot.
It's easy to become taken in with what this Simon Kinberg directed effort is aiming for: a globetrotting espionage affair featuring a squad of female stars taking names and kicking ample ass.
What's there not to like here?
been saying this for years in my reviews, but Hollywood definitely needs
an infusion of women being injected into genre films that have been
dominated by men for as long as the medium has existed.
On paper, THE 355 deserves kudos for bucking status quo conventions
of the spy thriller by headlining it with a sensationally empowered female
that's where the rallying cry for inclusivity
ends here, seeing as Kingberg's film puts these incredibly talented women
in a script on pure generic autopilot that ultimately wastes their
skills...and our collective time as a result.
The plot here
involves the search for an all-powerful MacGuffin device that seems like
it was ripped off from so many other spy thrillers.
You know the kind: It's a special flash drive that gives the owner
of it the ability to do just about anything with a couple of
keyboard commands (i.e. - disable financial markets, bring down planes,
launch nukes, cripple satellites, etc.).
Like many a MacGuffin that has seen the light of day before, this
flash drive essentially exists to thrust the plot into motion and get it
from point A to B and finally to C. Hot on the trail of said device are special CIA operatives
Mace Brown (Jessica Chastain) and Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan), who are
all business in the field, but give in to their sexual urges and feelings
for one another just before launching their next mission together (when is
this ever a good sign in these types of thrillers?).
Using extreme method acting to impersonate newlyweds as their
cover, the pair are in Paris to hook up with a Columbian intelligence
agent (Edgar Ramirez) who is now in possession of the device. Predictably, their plan to secure it from their
fellow comrade in arms fails and leads to one tragic outcome that - like
the MacGuffin itself - further thrusts the narrative forward.
ruthless arms dealer (Jason Flemyng) that's eager to nab the
device, and Mace (now separated Nick) fully realizes that she's going to
need a special team to coordinate their efforts to stop the nefarious
elements that want to use the device to end the world as we know it.
Joining Mace on her new mission are former MI6 agent Khadijah
(Lupita Nyong'o), psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz), German agent
Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), and Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan), the latter
of whom is in the film so very little that the poster advertising campaign
could be accurately labeled as false under modest scrutiny).
All of these women are forced to overcome their direct differences
with one another to finally hook up and fluidly synch together as a well
oiled team to ensure that World War III isn't started...and the reason the
audience is aware of the dangers is that one of the character proclaims at
one point - in one example among many of the dull and on-the-nose dialogue
littered throughout the film - "If they get this, they start World
Maybe the device
could also write a better screenplay?
Of the good
things in THE 355 I'll easily say this: the cast!
Oh my, what a cast, indeed. To
be fair, this motley crew of super spies are introduced in a fairly
expeditious manner, and we gain a pretty quick insight into what makes
them all tick and where their allegiances lie.
To be fair, most of these women are presented more as broad
character types than fully realized and three dimensional personas: Mace
is the by-the-book and tough as nails; Marie is the rule breaker
frequently in trouble with her superiors; Khadijah is the obligatory
computer wiz; and Graciela is an everyday woman without any spy skills that's
lured into this team because of her keen abilities as a psychologist that
offers her a portal into the mindsets of madmen. All of these actresses are collectively superb in THE 355 and
give it their all with the middling material they're given, but special
mention needs to be made about how the script sorely wastes Cruz by giving
her a screaming, weak willed character that just wants to get home to her
husband and children and doesn't want to have anything to do with saving
the world. Yeah, this is as
regressive minded as it sounds, and considering Cruz's recent crop of
strong performances, she most certainly deserved something meatier and
less cookie cutter than what THE 355 spoon feeds her.
Spy thrillers -
regardless of the gender of the cast - live and breathe by the nature of
their twists and turns of their ever-evolving plots, and one of the
biggest sins of THE 355 is that it offers up little - if any - tangible
shocking surprises throughout. Consider
one large red herring: the death early on of one character (no spoilers)
that's never explicitly shown on screen, but everyone close to this
character believes it to be true (when this character shows up late into
the proceedings - much to the shock of everyone around him - it's less
mind-blowing than it is tediously predictable).
The machinations of the plot are pretty glaringly obvious the more
THE 355 careens from one beat to the next, to the point where it all but
zaps away any pretence of suspense that Kinberg and company were clearly
aiming for here. If you're
a modest fan of spy thrillers, then navigating through THE 355 will feel
more like an arduous homework assignment than something to get lost within
while trying to decipher its inherent secrets.
It's also not a good look when these seemingly razor sharp female
spies can't seem to piece together what in the hell is happening in the
story as quickly as the audience can.
You would hope
that the action sequences - at the very least - would be the saving grace
of THE 355, but - sigh - they're so hyper edited and over cut to
eye straining levels that you want to just throw your hands up in air out
of sheer frustration. Not
every action film is going to attain the surgical precision and coherent
chorography of a JOHN WICK or an ATOMIC
BLONDE, but I have to ask this question (as I have endlessly over the
last few years): Why are films like THE 355 supremely guilty of
continually making the same stylistic mistakes with action sequences that
have annoyingly typified too many action films these days?
Why is there so much shaky cam theatrics?
Why are the chase montages editorial hatchet jobs?
Why can't individual shots last longer than 2-3 seconds at a time?
THE 355 is wasteful in multiple areas: It adheres to far too many
overused spy thriller troupes and it slavishly adheres to the worst
aesthetic instincts of bad action pictures.
And it's not that this film looks cheap (the gloss of its budget is
clearly apparent), but that it's so cheaply uninspired on a conceptual
level. That's the film's