By Elias Savada.
The top-notch female cast isn’t provided a decent blueprint to develop out of the provided stereotypes. The James Bond—Mission: Impossible spin that the actors try to emulate never takes full flight.”
Universal Pictures’ The 355, a shiny production of a fairly dull film, is being pushed as “From the studio that brought you Jason Bourne,” but, hey, why not be a bit more honest with your audience and allude to U’s 2000 lame-brained crime comedy Screwed, because that’s what you’ll feel like after you’ve sat through this 2+ hour spy “thriller.” As a Netflix film it’s passable, but, oops, it’s not on that service. It’s one of those “in theaters only” releases. The sad part is that its top-notch female cast (Jessica Chastain! Penélope Cruz! Bingbang Fan! Diane Kruger! Lupita Nyong’o!) isn’t provided a decent blueprint to develop out of the provided stereotypes. The James Bond—Mission: Impossible spin that the actors try to emulate never takes full flight.
Yeah. what a mess of a mainstream film this is. Then again, it’s January, so you can always expect more cinematic turkeys this month than during the rest of the year. Why not start it off with a big juicy bomb!
Simon Kinberg may be a producer of some fine films (the Deadpool films, Logan, The Martian), but as a director, he sucks. Remember his directorial debut, 2019’s Dark Phoenix? For your sake, I hope not. I can’t, and now I have two of his films I need to blot out from my memory.
And what’s with underlying screenplay, a mediocre piece of spy pablum hobbled together as a Charlie’s Angels variant (without Charlie). It’s a script that should have been tossed in the trash before someone spent way too much money shepherding the acting talent to the far-flung corners of the globe. Kinberg wrote the overwrought scenario with Theresa Rebeck, a creator of the enjoyable but short-lived tv series Smash. I also see they both had a hand in the writing of the disastrous furball Catwoman (2004).
Universal spent $20 million for the U.S. rights to this Chinese-U.S. coproduction, so that even a barely modest box office take might make it profitable.
The plot, as slim as it is, revolves around a makeshift computer add-on gadget that can do just about anything bad. This stocking stuffer is filled with algorithms that can start World War III. First samplings show it bringing down an airplane with a few keystrokes, and moments later blacking out Bogota’s electric grid. The bad guys (mostly smarmy, grungy-looking men) want it, and various intelligence agencies (an oxymoron in this case) seem to think the few women spies they employ don’t reflect the differing judgment from their male bosses. Anyway, the CIA is repped by Agent Mason “Mace” Browne (Chastain), MI6 by former computer guru Khadijah (Nyong’o), while the German counterpart, Marie (Kruger), at first is at odds with the other angels before the camaraderie sets in. Cruz is no spy at all, merely a therapist caught up in a bad situation. The Chinese offer up Lin Mi Sheng (Fan), an unknown entity who arrives during the film’s second half. The spiesome eventually go full rogue together, yet still manage to jet from one tourist attraction to the next: Washington, Paris, Berlin, London, Marrakesh, Shanghai. No one suffers jet lag and when any of them phone home it seems like everyone is in the same time zone.
Most of the action is pedantic, and the logic equally so.”
Most of the action is pedantic, and the logic equally so. When the single person who created this diabolical device is out of the picture just 4 minutes into the film, one easy way to make the movie a short subject is to smash it. Instead, Kinberg has his cast point their anger at a bunch of smart phones during their race to get the gizmo. And I kept wondering, why?
Plenty of gunfire and hand-to-hand combat are highlighted by the well-trained ladies, racing alongside a palpitating score by Tom Holkenborg (Mad Max: Fury Road) as they battle an endless array of mean-tempered folks. The chase scenes work the best, but frankly it doesn’t make The 355 an acceptable film.
The basic movie tropes follow the same antics that many television shows use to rationalize how computers can locate information and track people. They ignore reason. Images clutter multiple computer screens, seemingly appearing without any amount from the keyboard.
In Morocco, Khadijah has instant access to every security camera in a congested and dusty city, cameras that I doubt even exist, and she can switch from one to the next with abandon. She even has software that instantly selects the man being monitored. On a small ASUS laptop, with dozens of windows that would frustrate anyone but this one extraordinary secret agent. And all Nyong’o’s character is doing is hitting a few keys.
So, as The 355 veers into fantasy mode, I get angrier with every passing minute. You will too.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).