The 355 Synopsis: CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Jessica Chastain) joins forces with a rival German agent (Diane Kruger), a cutting-edge computer specialist (Lupita Nyong’o), and a Colombian psychologist ( Penélope Cruz) when a top-secret weapon falls into the hands of a group of mercenaries. Together, the four women embark on a breakneck mission to save the world while staying one step ahead of a mysterious figure who’s tracking their every move.
Featuring an ensemble of elite actresses, The 355 continues the welcomed trend of diversifying the action genre’s macho-man masculinity. As someone who rummages through nearly every disposable actioner (including whatever garbage Bruce Willis keeps putting out on VOD), it’s been a joy to witness the genre’s continual evolution as it still successfully honors its guilty pleasure formula.
Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, and Penélope Cruz are more than deserving of their own franchise, but The 355 rests far below their talents. Like a factory-assembled product destined for forgettable TV viewings, The 355 is disinterested in energizing the genre’s core tenants.
In his journey from producing and writing to directing, Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg struggles to inject much presence behind the camera. Kinberg’s film features a glossy competence streak with its wide-ranging vistas and traditional spy staples – although the general steadiness goes completely out the window when the action scenes arrive on screen.
Paired with an over-abundance of shaky-cam edits and flat shot selections from Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones, the action inspires more snores than it does thrills. Each shootout feels weightless in its lack of steaks and hard-hitting impacts. The woefully-choreographed fistfights elicit even more of an eyesore, spinning viewers in circles of disorienting frames that only work to confuse audiences. Kinberg’s flavorless vision of these elements doesn’t do the film any favors either, with the director rarely leveraging much engagement through the setpiece’s aggressively by-the-numbers design.
The screenplay is similarly thankless in its construction. Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck present some merits in their well-meaning attempts, particularly in a desire to give these characters room to develop between the chaotic gunfights. That said, the execution never imbues these characters with the agency they deserve. Stuck inside a narrative driven by predictable cliches, each actress is left playing a thankless amalgam defined by one or two personality traits. Attempts at unearthing textures under their action figure design fall woefully flat as neither writer conveys the nuance they desperately seek to incorporate.
I applaud the cast for keeping the material afloat, but I am unsure of what drew them to this material. Aside from Penélope Cruz – who sparks some humanity and personability as a psychologist thrust into a dangerous situation – no one in the cast is allowed to emanate anything past their solemnly-worn self-seriousness. Action movies have progressed past these types of emotionless heroines. I wish writers, directors, and producers would try harder to incorporate their cast’s distinct strengths rather than straddling them with thankless roles.
While never dreadful, The 355 is the type of disposable shlock destined to become a forgettable January footnote. By the time the film gets to its inevitable and entirely meaningless sequel tease, audiences will likely have already checked out of this generic spy effort.
The 355 is now playing in theaters.
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