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‘Hunter Killer’: Too many plots weigh down Gerard Butler’s submarine thriller

Gerard Butler in "Hunter Killer." | Summit Entertainment

We’ve reached the point in the once-promising career of Gerard Butler where his movies sound like parodies of bad action films, to wit(less), “Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen” and “Geostorm” and “Den of Thieves”…

And now, “Hunter Killer”!

Turns out that’s the term for a sub specially designed to hunt down and attack other submarines — and boy is there a lot of sub-on-sub action in this admittedly pretty good-looking but altogether bombastic, preposterous, cliché-riddled, overstuffed, not-so-Cold-War political thriller which seems all the more ridiculous given the current state of American-Russian relations.

Also, I’m still working out the crick in my neck from swiveling back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, from the incessantly ping-ponging plot that bounces from the submarine to the Pentagon to Russia to the submarine to the Pentagon to Russia, rinse and repeat. Come on, “Hunter Killer,” why are you making this nonsense so needlessly complicated?

All righty then, here we go.

“Hunter Killer” kicks off with a Russian submarine sinking an American submarine because the commander of the Russian sub thinks the Americans fired first. But did they? Hmmmm, something doesn’t add up.

MEANWHILE, Butler’s unconventional, outside-the-box-thinking Joe Glass has been given command of the USS Arkansas, which has been tasked with deploying to the site of the aforementioned submarine battle to find out exactly what happened. It’s not long before Joe is at odds with the obligatory contrarian XO (Carter McIntyre), who is constantly questioning Joe’s unorthodox commands while bleating things like, “This is absurd!” and “You’ll be court-martialed for this!”


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MEANWHILE, in Russia, power-crazed Defense Minister Dmitri Durov (Michael Gor), who looks and behaves like a third-rate villain in a Bond movie, has staged a coup against Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), with the intention of tricking the Americans into igniting an all-out war against Russia. Wow, that’s some plan, Dmitri!

MEANWHILE, at the Pentagon, the maniacally hawkish Adm. Donnegan (Gary Oldman, in paycheck-cashing mode) is at odds with Rear Adm. John Fisk (hey, another role for the ubiquitous Common!) and NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini), who suspect there’s more going on than meets the eye.

MEANWHILE, there’s a Navy SEALs movie within the submarine movie. Toby Stephens is fantastically over the top as Lt. Bill Beaman, who leads a small team that parachutes into Russia to extract the kidnapped President Zakarin from his captors so Zakarin can tell the world his traitorous defense minister is trying to manipulate Russia and the USA into firing upon each other. I loved this Bill Beaman guy. I swear, he pulls off feats of daring and strength and heroism that would have Captain America standing and applauding.

MEANWHILE, Cmdr. Joe Glass somehow ascertains a few Russians actually survived that movie-opening attack, so he orders a rescue mission — and saves none other than his Russian counterpart, Capt. Sergei Andropov (the late Michael Nyqvist in one of his last roles). If that’s not crazy enough, Joe actually enlists Sergei’s help in overturning the Russian coup, telling his sailors to treat Sergei as their guest and allow him full access to the submarine command system. What! Joe, we know you’re a rogue and all, but this is too much.

(The two captains bond after Joe delivers the classic, “We’re not different at all” speech, noting they’re not enemies, they’re “brothers” because after all, they share the same profession.)

Director Donovan Marsh and screenwriters Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss (adapting a 2012 novel titled “Firing Point”) keep the Tom Clancy Meter dialed to “11” while hopping back and forth between all those parallel plots. We get some impressive practical effects — an exterior set of the USS Arkansas was built in an 800,000-gallon tank in the legendary Pinewood Studios — as well as some nifty special effects that plunge us into the underwater maneuverings.

At other times, though, “Hunter Killer” comes across as a third-rate action film. The Navy SEAL raid on the Russian compound is reminiscent of a hundred shootouts staged in Giant Warehouses on a Dock Somewhere.

And all the actors, be they Americans or Russians, or a Brit playing an American, or a Swede playing a Russian, or a Scotsman playing an American, are sunk by playing caricatures prone to spitting out leaden, often unintentionally humorous dialogue.

From start to finish, “Hunter Killer” is all wet.

‘Hunter Killer’

Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Donovan Marsh and written by Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss, based on the novel “Firing Point” by George Wallace and Don Keith. Rated R (for violence and some language). Running time: 121 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.