Stellar cast and Jessica Chastain’s good intentions to make an all-female Bond-style thriller aside, The 355 plays more like a blockbuster blueprint than an actual movie. Hire the best A-list actresses, a sporty action director (Simon Kinberg), and commission a script about a MacGuffin that can blow up the world. Hell, it might even become a franchise. But the abysmal script can’t hide behind a colossal budget, exotic locations or high-energy action sequences. At one point you’ll wonder how all these talented people signed on to this mess.
Taking its title from the code number of a famed female spy during the Revolutionary War, The 355 involves a team of agents trying to stop terrorists from procuring a potentially catastrophic gizmo. Chastain (who’s also a producer) is Mace Browne, a burned-out C.I.A. agent who reluctantly falls in love with fellow agent Nick (Sebastian Stan). If you ever want to see a performance dead set on attaining the gold standard for laid-back, masculine sexiness, Stan’s will satisfy. When Nick is killed during a botched assignment to obtain this dangerous thingy which could cause World War III, or whatever, Mace enlists the help of German agent Marie (Diane Kruger), U.K. cyber specialist, Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), and Colombian psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz) – just in case they need some therapy while kicking ass?
After introducing our team of professionals, which takes forever, the narrative disintegrates into a smorgasbord of grand locales (Paris, Morroco, Shanghai) and large set pieces you don’t really care about since Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) constantly moves the camera, almost irritably, and the editing never focuses on things like ambiance or mood. There’s a lot of yelling, betrayal and mugging, and none of it has weight. When they finally slow things down to make room for the characters, everyone is so damn earnest, you can’t help but groan. Strangely, this movie has the exact same story as last year’s catastrophe of a comedy, Hitman’s Wife Bodyguard, but at least that one was sort of self-aware.
The only reason to see this fiasco is for the all-female cast. When was the last time we saw a better group of actors in the same frame? With each actress hailing from a different continent, Chastain, Kruger, Nyong’o and Cruz do their best with their lifeless characters. And it’s fun to watch them beat up bad guys. But the script by Kinberg, Theresa Rebeck and Bek Smith is so bereft of humanity and thick with exposition, you could care less if the world they’re trying to save gets blown into smithereens.
The main problem, besides the awful dialogue, is with the movie’s austere tone. It needed to be much lighter. There isn’t any genuine banter or chemistry here. Everyone talks with the same critical inflection while glaring at each other for long periods of time. Like most bloated action movies these days, The 355 clicks all the conventional, crowd-pleaser boxes, but even with its caliber of talent, it has the narrative artistry of an episode of Seal Team or 9-1-1. You might as well stay home and watch TV.
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