Film review: ‘THE 355’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The 355 attempts to combine the kinetic action and espionage of Mission Impossible with the female solidarity and empowerment of Charlie’s Angels and Gunpowder Milkshake.  Unfortunately, this pedestrian film falls short as an action film, fails to say anything particularly original or profound about the role and status of women in action movies and lacks the ebullient fun of the McG Angels films, instead coming closer to the lamentable 2019 Angels reboot.

The film promises a lot with its stellar female ensemble of Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Dianne Kruger, Penelope Cruz and Fan Bingbing.  Chastain plays CIA agent Mason Browne who’s in pursuit of criminals who have stolen a phenomenally powerful computer device that allows the user to hack any system in the world including electricity grids, stock markets and even aeroplane control systems.  As her mission goes international, she’s forced to team up with angry, relentless German agent Marie (Dianne Kruger), tech expert Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), Colombian agent and psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz) and Chinese agent Lin (Fan Bingbing).

The super agents in pursuit of the all-powerful computer device is a pretty hoary old cliché.  It might have made this film more fun if writer/ director Simon Kinberg (who gave us the extremely disappointing X-Men: Dark Phoenix) had acknowledged this and toyed with the premise but instead he plays it straight.  Consequently, we’re subjected to by the numbers action/spy fare with twists that can be spotted from light years away.

As the film relies so heavily on its action sequences it’s unfortunate that they’re not very good.  While occasionally explosive, they’re mostly flat, unrealistic and so choppily edited it’s often difficult to tell what the hell’s going on.  The fight choreography is particularly bad with characters looking more like a flailing celebrity contestants on Dancing with the Stars.

With such a fine collection of female actors we should have expected some memorable characters to emerge but with the possible exception of Lupita Nyongo’s feisty Khadijah, they’re mostly one dimensional and dull.  There’s a brief attempt to slot Penelope Cruz’ anxious Graciela into a quirky comedy relief role but that yields no laughs and is quickly forgotten about.  It’s hard to watch such a great actor as Cruz being wasted here.  Much of the blame for this should go to the scriptwriters who haven’t provided exciting or engaging situations in which they’re characters might be tested.  The script also has the women spouting silly (but unfunny) dialogue.

The film looks ok with glossy cinematography from Tim Maurice-Jones and reasonably effective use of international locations including Paris but it’s hardly a stunning piece of cinema.

While enough cash has been expended on this film to ensure it has some star power and is at least technically competent, its lack of excitement, story invention, wit and engaging characters makes it a mostly tiresome experience.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Action/ spy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Simon Kinberg.

Release date: 13th Jan 2022.

Running time: 124 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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