THE 355 – Review
So who’s ready to start 2022 with a bang? Or rather several bangs, lotsa’ chases, mixed-martial arts “throw-downs”, and more than a few teeth-rattling explosions? Well, this action extravaganza may be just the ticket, at least that’s what the studios and multiplexes are hoping for. Perhaps this’ll be the “franchise-starter” that will make up for the recent “franchise-enders” like the sputtering Matrix and Kingsmen, though the ‘web-spinner will keep swinging past more box office records. Oh, I neglected to mention that this flick’s action stars are all women. No, it’s not another reboot of CHARLIE”S ANGELS or a follow-up to OCEAN’S EIGHT. Yes see, they’re not private-eyes or con-artists. These ladies are secret agents who form an elite “rogue squad” known as THE 355.
This globetrotting adventure begins in the palatial estate of a drug kingpin in Colombia. Ah, it seems that he’s wanting to “diversify” as he sets up a “buy” with an arms supplier to international terrorists. So, what’s the weapon being offered up? A” mega-bomb” or a laser cannon, perhaps? Nope, for want of a better name, let’s call it the “Destructo-Driver Device”, an item the size of a cell phone that can hook into the internet and shut down cities, blow-up planes, and cripple national economies. Luckily some soldiers intervene before the “hand-off”, with one man, Luis (Edgar Ramirez), scooping the DDD up for himself. A bit later, the CIA learns of the DDD and brokers a “sale”. The “exchange” will be the next “super-secret” mission for top agents, and old pals, Mace (Jessica Chastain) and Nick (Sebastian Stan). Unfortunately, a rival German agent, Marie (Diane Kruger) botches the deal at a cafe in Paris. A jittery Luis brings in some “back-up” from his homeland which includes DNI agent/psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz). As Mace tries to “regroup” in the wake of a tragedy, she enlists an old friend and colleague, MI-6 computer whiz Khadija (Lupita Nyoong’o). When the DDD is grabbed during a “retrieval” of Luis, an uneasy alliance is formed. The female quartet track down the DDD to Morocco to stop that original arms dealer from finally acquiring it. But the women soon discover that they are trapped in a power plot with double and triple-crossers who will eliminate them and their loved ones with no hesitation in order to seize the “prize”.
Talk about your diverse, “planet-scanning” cast! Heading up this “multi-country” crew is the talented Chastain, who displays her considerable leadership skills and physical prowess. She’s confident in the big action “set pieces”, never just doing spy “cosplay”, giving her dialogue the same gravitas as any of her many somber dramatic roles. Mace is a pro, but we see the painful toll being collected with every groan and shudder. Kruger makes a formidable counterpart, and often reluctant cohort. This “hyper-focused” loner is the story’s “wild card”. Marie often pounces like a just uncaged beast, as Kruger’s wild-eyed glare tells all to “back off”.The inverse may be Nyong’o’s “Khad” who is almost a sister to Mace, sharing a warm bond and a dangerous past. But Nyong’o gives her a hesitancy and frustration at having to get “back in the game” again. She insists it is the “last round”, but her tired eyes tell us that she’s not optimistic. But still, Khad’s a calming influence on “Grizzy” the “office civilian” suddenly thrust into combat. Cruz conveys her confused panic as the bullets whiz past while she attempts to crawl inside her purse (perhaps burying her head in the sand). By the tale’s midpoint, she’s taking more of a stand, but Grizzy finally agrees to join the fight in order to protect her family. Oh, around that time the foursome adds a member with the cool, sinewy Bingbing Fan as Lin, the mysterious, enigmatic Chinese agent Lin. As for the “token males”, Stan balances charm and ferocity as the energetic Nick, another old pal of Mace, though he wants much more than shared missions with her. And Ramirez brings great intensity to the somewhat small role of Luis, the main catalyst for the whole race against the clock.
Surprisingly this thriller’s not based on an existing property, as it seems to fit with many similar comic book flicks. Perhaps it’s due to its director, Simon Kinberg, who has scripted many of those “tentpoles” and directed the most dismal entry of a big comics series, X-MEN; DARK PHOENIX. Plus he also produced this and co-wrote it with Theresa Rebeck and Bek Smith, which is the start of this new original flick’s many problems. While striving to be different with its unique casting, the screenplay somehow uses so many tired “undercover agent” cliches that I was literally calling out the twists and even bit of dialogue with great frequency. This might have been “fresh” and “edgy” 30 years ago, but ATOMIC BLONDE and last year’s BLACK WIDOW really shook up the genre while truly making us care about the ladies behind the lethal kicks and quips. Each “operative” is reduced to a tired trope that regurgitates the same spiel too often. Khad is, as Pete’s pal Ned calls himself, “the guy (or lady) in the chair “pounding a keyboard until the “we’re in” scene ender. But it’s not as tiresome as Grizzy’s mantra of “I must get back to my babies!” while trying to push away an offered weapon. There are so many things “wrong” that we must wonder if the script was rushed through. Is a phone call being traced, today (“keep her on the line”)? Then there’s the scene in Morocco with everyone but Mace in headscarves. And what’s her attire? It looks to be one of Victor Lazlo’s suits (with massive fedora) from CASABLANCA. And though the film wants to show how the women are as tough as their male counterparts, they still have to go “in disguise” at a swanky party, sporting tight, cleavage-baring gowns (of no use in combat). Yes, a group of actresses can headline a big loud bombastic popcorn flick. And it can be just as tiring and devoid of wit or logic as the fellas. Oh, they and we deserve much much better. The talented quintet will be back for better films, but this is hopefully the last mission for THE 355.
1/2 Out of 4
THE 355 is now playing in theatres everywhere