This was certainly not the intent, but the unveiling of plans for The 355 at the Cannes festival in 2018 kicked up memories of cheesy action flicks such as The Wild Geese and The Sea Wolves. You remember (actually you probably don't). The likes of Richard Harris and Richard Burton shared rugged cliff faces with Roger Moore and David Niven. Those films existed because the stars agreed to appear in them.
Okay, the differences were more pronounced than the similarities. For starters, Jessica Chastain, Fan Bingbing, Lupita Nyong'o, Penélope Cruz and Marion Cotillard looked to be in charge here. Ms Chastain's production company was a key player. It was the actors, not bland studio heads, who addressed the media on the Croisette.
Still, The 355 didn’t make it to screens because the world was begging to hear about the hunt for a digital MacGuffin that can blow planes from the sky and cause economies to crash. Simon Kinberg’s largely useless film stands as a quaint tribute to a vanished era in which movie stars could open films. In 2022 you may as well try and flog a thriller on celebrity ventriloquists.
At any rate, they got the thing made. Somewhere along the line Diane Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard. This may seem like a tiny downgrade, but the German actor turns out to be the most comfortable amid ringing shell cases and vaporised viscera. When she is on screen, it is just about possible to believe we're watching the beginning of a viable franchise. She discharges a submachine gun with icy efficiency. She makes the best of the indifferent fight direction.
None of the rest manages to similarly alchemise the second-rate material. Chastain leads off the story as Mace, a CIA agent carrying out a vital “op” with her colleague and romantic partner Nick (Sebastian Stan). When this is all over, the two spooks may move from a fake cover marriage to the real thing. Just one more job. Then they can enjoy each other in relative piece. I’m sure Nick will be fine. Yes, no need to worry.
Following inevitably calamity, Mace joins with Marie (Kruger), a German agent; Khadijah (Nyong’o), a British computer geek; Graciela (Cruz), a Colombian psychologist, and Lin Mi Sheng (Fan), an operative for the Chinese Ministry of State Security, to hunt down the device that is inexplicably never referred to as the Armageddon Box. People say things like “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “we can do this the easy way or the hard way”. Watch the film a little bit drunk and it will surely work better as commentary on its own form than the recent, considerably more pretentious Matrix Resurrections.
If all you require from a thriller is drone shots captioned with 'Paris, France' or 'Shanghai, China' then you will be in humble heaven
Chastain struggles to shoulder the weight of cliché. Nyong’o is, heaven help her, saddled with the nerd role and, thus, spends most of the film squinting at phone or laptop. Fan Bingbing arrives too late and does too little.
As a semi-civilian Silly Jilly, Cruz has the most potential for fun, but the screenwriters fail to exploit her considerable comic gifts. Kinberg, director of Dark Phoenix, a contender for the worst film ever adapted from a Marvel source, organises the action with the flare you expect from a home-shopping channel. If all you require from a thriller is drone shots captioned with “Paris, France” or “Shanghai, China” then you will be in humble heaven.
The 355 (we wait a looooong time for that title to be explained) emerges from an honourable aspiration. It is better to create original action roles for women than to lazily alter the gender of already familiar characters. But there is no other reason for this humdrum film to exist. It plays like a press conference made uninteresting flesh. No sooner endured than forgotten.
Opens on January 7th.