The 355 (2022)

SIMON KINBERG

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA/, 2022. , , , , , , . Story by , Screenplay by Theresa Rebeck, Simon Kinberg. Cinematography by . Produced by , , , Simon Kinberg, . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

 [Information in this review could constitute spoilers]

We open at a remote mansion compound outside of Bogota where shady characters argue over who will take ownership of the film’s MacGuffin doomsday device, and are then interrupted by soldiers who lay waste to everyone in the building. One of the men in uniform, played by the always uncomfortable and unpleasant , finds the item in question and takes it, but the real reason for this sequence is to set the presumably skeptical audience up for the real twist in this story: we’ve spent the first few minutes watching rough and muscled men committing heinous violence against each other, but we will now switch to the real program, where ladies will take over performing all the action.

It’s actually a perfectly wonderful proposition for some of us, in fact there are audiences out there who think it’s a natural and wonderful thing to have women headline a type of film usually associated with men, but this film is not made for those people. Like a bad host who makes the guests uncomfortable by fretting over the no-shows, the team members behind this mostly unmemorable exercise in vigilante justice are constantly thumbing their noses at the sexist pigs who they don’t realize are, most likely, not in the audience, to prove something that, for anyone with half a brain, doesn’t need to be proven, that women can star in action movies and some of us are happy to pay to see it. Are there studio executives that need this proven to them? Of course there are, since most blockbusters feel like they’re made by people with half a brain, but that doesn’t change the fact that telling the story from such a defensive posture cheapens its possibilities as both breakthrough and entertainment.

heads up an international cast of award-winning actresses whose casting feels like a producer had some global tax credits or foreign pre-sales opportunities to cash in, playing a tough CIA operative who is sent to Paris with a partner to recover the item that Ramirez is selling to the highest bidder; the object is a disc drive that can apparently overtake every communication system in the entire world and make stock markets and airplanes crash with equal terrifying force. Chastain almost gets her hands on it when rival German operative screws up the rendezvous and gets one of the good guys killed, while Ramirez goes back to his hotel room and finds that his unit have sent army psychologist to assess him and escort him home. Knowing that she needs help with the tech in order to retrieve the item safely, Chastain enlists the help of her British communications expert friend and the four women travel to Marrakech and then Shanghai, where is added to their roster.

The characters mention James Bond in one scene, and it’s interesting to ponder the reasons for bringing up a franchise also soaked in exaggerated, violent fantasies about the lives of covert agents; is he invoked as a reminder that men can’t do fraternity and women fall into it naturally, the way these ladies with their conflicting international interests do (and constantly mention)? Or is it just to convince us to forgive the fact that the uninspired script more or less steals the plot of Goldfinger? One could handle the easily predictable script (it’s a movie rule as old as the hills, if the person doesn’t die on screen, they’re going to come back at the end) and the cringey Sisterhood dialogue (of which there is far too much, it’s all on the nose, and really embarrassing) if there was the slightest self-awareness in all of the performances, but Nyong’o is the only one who seems to get the joke: between Chastain’s having a face that always looks like it’s going to “That’s Not Funny” her way through fourth-wave feminism, Cruz not understanding that, as the one who is always crying and scared, she’s supposed to enjoy that she’s the “girl” in a movie starring all women, and Kruger basically continuing her performance from In The Fade (complete with a traumatic family past), there’s not nearly enough of the indulgence required of this brand of escapism, and it’s only Nyong’o who brings in much-needed moments of self-effacing caprice.

Intelligent and intense, Chastain has a great deal of talent and usually has no issues carrying an entire film on her shoulders, but humour has never been her forte, and it never occurs to her that being in a movie that includes the ridiculous element of a tiny iPhone-sized toy that can destroy the whole world isn’t a continuation of Zero Dark Thirty.  As far as the action goes, the film brims over with plenty of diverting sequences, and here is where Kruger leads the bunch, as she’s the only one who is convincing at either the effortless toughness or looking believable in the physical stuff.

What this film gets right is in putting your favourite arthouse actresses in the lead roles of a genre movie, but what it gets wrong is in forgetting to make sure they have a good time doing it.

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