It’s hard to tell if the target audience for “The 355” is someone who has never seen a Formulaic International Thriller in their life and will actually be surprised at the depressingly predictable plot “twists” — or someone who has seen dozens of Formulaic International Thrillers and will get a mild kick out of seeing so many boxes checked on the list of action movie clichés.
Either way, this slick, star-studded, cynical and intelligence-insulting clunker is about two clicks better than “Red Notice,” and that ain’t saying much. The entire movie comes across as if the screenwriters had gathered the scripts for dozens of similar films in the genre, dropped them into some sort of software blender — and whipped up one big bland smoothie of a story.
One of my favorite eye-rolling moments comes when the anti-hero heroines are held at gunpoint by the obligatory slimy double-crossing villain, who gets what he wants from them — and then just leaves with his dopey henchmen, rather than wiping them out, because of course if he does that, we have no movie.
I also loved the scene in which the all-female team survives a harrowing adventure in Marrakesh, takes some sort of transport to Shanghai — and in no time flat, the women are able to outfit themselves in red-carpet-level gowns, hair and makeup, complete with jewelry tricked up to contain surveillance devices, in order to infiltrate a lavish event where dozens of the world’s most wanted criminals are going to bid on a unique device that will give its owner complete and utter power over … the entire world! I’d love to see the sequence in which the team acquires the spectacular, custom-fitted dresses and the super-spy jewelry, etc. Is there a store for all that in Shanghai?
OK. Let’s take a breath here and go back to the beginning of this disappointingly rote actioner — and it truly is a disappointment, given the director is Simon Kinberg, who has been a writer and/or producer on such films as “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Martian,” and the enormously talented cast is led by Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.
Chastain plays Mason “Mace” Brown, a CIA operative who teams up with her colleague Nick Fowler (Stan) on a covert mission in France, where they’ll pose as newlyweds from Iowa — but in reality they’re meeting with a Colombian agent named Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramirez) to make an exchange: Rojas will get $3 million in cash, and Mace and Nick will take possession of a one-of-a-kind techno-device — known as “the drive” — that can access anything and everything on the grid and has an untraceable master key, and thus give its owner the power to shut down cities, crash planes, gain access to nuclear codes, blah, blah, blah.
The drop goes horribly awry! Chase sequences and public gunfights ensue! Actors, stunt personnel, location shoots and CGI enhancement are utilized to deliver some well-executed and thoroughly familiar thrills and chills! Before you can say “The Bourne Trilogy” or “Spy Game” or “Mission: Impossible” or “Safe House” or “Salt,” Mace is placed under suspicion by the agency and has to GO ROGUE, and she eventually teams up with:
- Her longtime friend, the former MI6 agent and cybersecurity expert Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o).
- Her recent foe, the deadly German agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), who has the most troubled pasts of all the troubled pasts haunting these characters.
- A Colombian DNA agent named Graciela (Penelope Cruz), a psychologist who has no field experience.
- The mysterious and quite brilliant and lethal Chinese agent Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing).
They all decide to work together to retrieve the device and keep it safe from the bad guys, because as we’ve already been told, “If that drive falls into the wrong hands…” just in case we didn’t understand that bad things could happen if that device falls into the wrong hands.
“The only way we’re going to accomplish anything if if we join forces!” says Khadijah. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
I swear I’ve heard that somewhere before — along with lines such as:
“They get this [device], they start World War III.”
“Get some rest. You’ll need it.”
“We put ourselves in danger so that others are not.”
“When you live a life of lies, it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t.”
Clocking in at an overlong 2 hours and 4 minutes, “The 355” gets its name from the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution. We get an explanation for that within the movie — and when a movie has to pause to tell the audience the origin of its title, it’s either trying too hard or not hard enough. But as we’ve just learned, when you live a life of lies, get some rest, you’ll need it and we put ourselves in danger so that others are not.