Synopsis: When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, a wild card CIA agent joins forces with three international agents on a lethal mission to retrieve it, while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move.
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramírez
Director: Simon Kinberg
Running Length: 124 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: Back in those free-wheeling pre-pandemic days, it was a lot easier to track the ebb and flow of a movie season. Coming into the new year, all the studios had put their might behind the films they hoped could snag an award or two so January was a common “dumping ground” for their less than desirables, a wasteland of also-rans where they could offload a turkey that was beginning to mold or take something off the shelf which had been gathering conspicuous dust. Now, however, when films have been delayed due to multiple release date shifts, it’s getting harder to know what is truly a movie in trouble or one just caught in the crosshairs of a global health crisis affecting the entertainment industry.
When marketing for the spy thriller The 355 kicked back up again recently, I vaguely remember seeing early trailers for it well over a year ago and having my interest pinged because of the international cast assembled by Universal Studios. No dummies to foreign distribution and marketing, the film boasted top talent (if not exactly mega-watt superstars who guaranteed blockbuster opening weekends) that held smart appeal teaming up for an ensemble adventure which felt like Jason Bourne meets Oceans Eight in execution. Swallowed up by a number of moves on its way to opening, it’s only now being released nearly a year after originally scheduled and while I would love to report it’s one of those good movies with bad timing, it’s a cringe-y outing for a number of likable actresses attempting to act smart through a pretty dumb film.
A deadly device has been created that, when activated, can tap into the electronics of any system in the world and take control. Whole cities can be shut-down, airplanes can be crashed, you name it. Obviously, it’s a weapon every bad guy or gal would want to get their hands on and luckily there’s only one of them in the world and conveniently there’s only one person who knows how to make it. The opening finds DNI agent Luis Rojas (Édgar Ramírez, Point Break) locating the mechanism and its creator before it can fall into the wrong hands but not before the CIA is alerted to his location. Sending their two best agents Mace Brown (Jessica Chastain) and Nick Fowler (Sebastain Stan, I, Tonya) to broker a deal with Rojas in Paris, the plan goes haywire thanks to German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, Welcome to Marwen) intervening, sending a number of standard plot mechanics into motion across a global playing field.
I won’t spoil the details of just how Oscar-winning stars Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther) and Penélope Cruz (Pain & Glory) enter the picture, but both feel miscast in roles that don’t quite suit them. Take Nyong’o, as a former MI6 agent who tells one character that she is a top computer specialist who is the best in the world as what she does when listing her achievements and then within minutes is telling the same person she can’t crack the code on a locked iPhone. Cruz may have it a little worse, spending most of the movie either whimpering that she “doesn’t want to be here” (join the club) or wearing one of The 355’s 355 questionable wigs. Both actresses are better than this and by the time the movie realizes it is underserving the Academy Award winning stars, it’s too late to fix it. (And it does it in a shamefully gross way involving the type of violence only a studio forced rewrite could have asked for.)
Born from a desire Oscar-nominated star Chastian (Lawless) had to create a female-driven spy franchise to rival the likes of James Bond or a modern-day Mission: Impossible, The 355 (a reference to the codename of an unidentified female spy who fought for the Patriots during the American Revolution) was written by playwright Theresa Rebeck who’s previous known-for was the TV series Smash. The musical TV series Smash. Now listen, I’m not saying Rebeck is perhaps a bit underqualified for the type of dynamic writing a film in this genre requires but the entire endeavor pretends like the audience has never seen a film involving espionage before. Double crosses are introduced as if we can’t see them coming from a mile away and romantic or familial entanglements are awkwardly asked to take center stage at inopportune times. Truthfully, it plays like a bad pilot episode of a show for television…and with a PG-13 rating that prevents much bloodletting or violence it’s not even cable television but something from the NBC Wednesday Night line-up.
Directed by Simon Kinberg who was also behind the fantastically reviled X-Men: Dark Phoenix (which I will still stand-by as not nearly as bad as people said it was), the action sequences are so goofy looking at times it feels like it was created by the studio photo editor based on what would look good in a promo shot. There’s nothing special about any of the heavily choreographed fights and early on they start to blend together. Even the more strident stunt sequences don’t appear ground-breaking, they just look painful. Keep your eyes open for Chastain jumping from a crane to a shipping crate. She (or, rather, her stunt double) hits the side of the crate so hard all I could think about for the rest of the movie were how many ribs were totally shattered as a result. It almost feels like this is the fifth film in a franchise because so little effort has been put into making The 355 stand out in any way from others in its field. I think it’s admirable Chastain talks the talk and walks the walk in work she has faith in (her performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye in 2021 was really incredible, another project that came about based on her interest) but if the end result is something as lackluster as this, it tends to diminish the original intention.