THE 355

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Simon Kingberg

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Bingbing Fan, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez, Jason Flemyng, Pablo Scola, John Douglas Thomas.

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Mission: Bland

A healthy suspension of disbelief is required for this female centric globetrotting action spy thriller that delivers a high body count and plenty of twists and turns. It will remind many of the recent superior female centric action film Gunpowder Milkshake

The 355 centres around a mysterious technical device which serves as the film’s MacGuffin. Created by a technical wizard with a Colombian drug cartel, the device, which resembles a mobile phone, has the power to bring down planes or black out whole cities. The cartel’s efforts to sell the device to a powerful crime lord (Jason Flemyng) are thwarted when their headquarters are raided by the DNI, the Colombian special forces squad. After a shoot-out leaves most of the cartel dead, rogue DNI agent Luis (Edgar Ramirez) makes off with the device and plans to sell it on the black market.   

Enter CIA agent Mason Browne (Jessica Chastain) and her partner agent Nick Foster (Sebastian Stan), who head off to Paris to affect the exchange. But the meeting is spoiled by rogue BND agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger) who intercepts the device. A frantic chase through the streets and subway tunnels of Paris ends with Brown losing the device which is recaptured by Santiago.  

Mason enlists the help of her friend Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupito Nyong’o), a technical genius and former MI6 cybersecurity expert to track the hard drive. A second attempt to buy the device embroils Colombian DNI therapist Graciela Rivera (Penelope Cruz), who has come to Paris to support and counsel Luis. A violent confrontation in a fish market leads to Luis being killed and the device falling into enemy hands. An uneasy alliance develops between these various agents as they work to track down and recover the device. There are lots of double crosses and betrayals as Mason and her off the books team (now consisting of Schmidt and Rivera) travel across the world in search of the device.  

The film moves through a number of exotic locations, from Paris to Morocco and on to the neon lit, glittering luxurious high-rise apartments of Shanghai, and the locations have been nicely shot by cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones (Kick-Ass 2, etc). 

This is the sophomore feature for Simon Kinberg, who is better known as a producer and writer, who made his directorial debut with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, a rare flop for the Marvel Studios. Kinberg has cowritten the formulaic script with Theresa Rebeck (better known for her work on tv series like LA Law and Law & Order, and the dire Catwoman, etc) and it ticks a lot of familiar boxes, and it certainly moves at a fast pace. The fight scenes are shot in that choppy style of many other action movies, but they lack any real sense of urgency. But much of the dialogue is cliched. 

But there are some crucial gaps in the logic of the film, especially as Mason and her team are working without any official help yet seem to be able to access technical support, weaponry, gorgeous dresses, and transport with ease. Adiyeme seems able to track the device and the villains using just her laptop and a mobile device with ease. However, the fast pace and nonstop action distracts the audience from these gaps until after the final credits have rolled.  

The female spies here need to work through their own emotional baggage before they can complete their mission. Kinberg has been able to assemble a strong and ethnically diverse cast here, but they deserve better. Their roles here hardly challenge them dramatically. Cast largely against type here Chastain acquits herself well in a physically demanding role as a kick-ass action hero. Kruger is good with a more nuanced performance as the troubled Schmidt while it is hard to credit Cruz’s unlikely transformation from concerned psychologist to gun toting action heroine who is more anxious to get home and see her kids than she is to engage in gunplay. Chinese singer and actress Bingbing Fan plays Lin, an enigmatic Chinese agent whose loyalties are suspect. 

The idea of kick ass highly capable female action heroines has been done so often now that is becoming overly familiar (the various incarnations of Charlie’s Angels, Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, Angelina Jolie in Salt, Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, etc) and The 355 adds little that is fresh or original to this subgenre. The obscure title relates to the secret code name for the first female spy during the American Revolution, but the significance is quickly glossed over, and you almost miss the reference.  

Apparently, Chastain pitched the concept of a Bond-like action thriller populated by strong female characters to Kinberg when they worked on X-Men: Dark PhoenixThe 355 seems to be setting itself up to kick start a potential new action franchise in the mold of Mission: Impossible or the Jason Bourne series, although this formulaic actioner seems unlikely to gain much traction.  

★★☆ 

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