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‘The 355’ Can’t Get Anything Right

Jessica Chastain squanders her talents, along with two Oscar winners, in this dud

Simon Kinberg’s “The 355” opens with a logo for Freckle Films, the production company of its star, Jessica Chastain, and SKGENRE, which is the filmmaker’s own company and initials.

It’s a quick reminder that Kinberg and Chastain are reuniting here for the first time since his prior film and directorial debut, “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” For some, this would present a warning, though I approached optimistically, as I’m one of possibly four people on planet Earth who really liked that film.

After a few minutes of their new film, it’s clear that this is no “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” which was uneven and had a troubled production history but emerged a potent, thematically rich and enthralling work. “The 355,” on the other hand, is a total fiasco.

The 355 - Official Trailer 2

We begin with what appears to be a Colombian drug deal, but is actually a set up for the film’s McGuffin, a drive that could cancel electricity, cause planes to come crashing down and, scariest of all, cause your cell phone to not work (Noooo! Start panicking, everyone!).

Edgar Ramirez appears as the soldier who obtains the device and, right away, we can see we’re in for a very long two hours: this is visually bland, sloppily edited, poorly written and never exciting.

Even the presence of Ramirez brings a harbinger of doom, as the once promising star of “Carlos” is now stuck in career limbo, doing films like the “Point Break” remake and this.

We meet Chastain’s agent Mace, who is teamed with her colleague and best friend with benefits, played by the wooden Sebastian Stan, to steal the device, which leads to the first of many ineptly staged chase sequences, unexciting stunts and reminders that we could be watching good movies, with the words “Mission: Impossible,” in the title.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The red flags never cease, as an introduction to Lupita Nyongo’s techno savvy sidekick is one pointless scene needlessly stretched into two (it’s disheartening to see the brilliant lead of Jordan Peele’s “Us” demoted to being Ving Rhames opposite Chastain’s Ethan Hunt wannabe).

Eventually, Diane Kruger’s vicious agent and Penelope Cruz’s agency psychiatrist join together with Chastain, because, well, it’s on the movie’s poster.

A scene of the four, chemistry-free leads in a bar, exchanging stories and laughing over drinks is desperate, as the conversations are so forced and unfunny, the screenplay must have read, “ADD BANTER LATER.”

The fifth note I wrote 10 minutes in, “I’ll bet he isn’t dead, because we didn’t see him die” becomes prophetic, though it’s a painfully easy twist to see coming. Why did Chastain, one of the best actresses in film, think a script this bad would provide her and three gifted but stranded co-stars a proper vehicle?

The PG-13 rating allows for one F-word and a lot of bloodless brutality. The whole thing reeks of a Netflix movie, as it’s star-studded but fatally generic and disposable.

RELATED: ‘No Time to Die’ Starts Strong But Ends with a Whimper

Chastain normally rises above a bad screenplay but not here. Kruger’s character is the most intense and interesting but it’s not her movie, while Cruz’s character is a real drag, until the world’s worst Zoom call inspires her to go from a scared bystander to a well attired sharpshooter in a matter of minutes.

Fan Bingbing enters the film late and her introductory scenes grind the whole thing to a halt.

If any of this was fun, trashy (knowingly or otherwise) or remotely funny, I could forgive it on so many levels. The closest this gets to camp are some ripe lines, like “I want those women dead!” and “You were beaten by a bunch of girls!” What we have is a movie unpleasant enough for most but emptily watchable enough to endure while killing time on a long flight.

There are lots of what I call gun-versations, as characters offer terse dialog while in a Mexican standoff (“Put down the gun,” followed by “No, YOU put down YOUR gun!”). The exposition never stops unraveling but the murky plot can’t overcome the bigger problem of characters we don’t know and hardly care about.

The grand finale settles for ripping off “Die Hard,” but the overly attentive editing undermines all of the action, even as Chastain dangles from the side of a building. Tom Cruise knew to have a camera fixate on him when he does his own stunts, while Chastain’s big moments feel like tossed off blips.

References to “M:i6” made me overly conscious of superior viewing choices, though a curious exchange regarding 007 stands out for being out of touch.

Someone notes, “James Bond didn’t have to deal with real life…James Bond always ends up alone.” Have none of these characters seen a Bond film since the Pierce Brosnan era?

 

 
 
 
 
 
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With a few minutes left on the running time, Chastain quickly dishes out the meaning of the title and it doesn’t land. Instead of cramming a tossed off history lesson into literally the last 4-minutes, perhaps she should have just said, “3+5+5=13…We’re The Unlucky 13!”

Krueger mentions earlier that a victim was caught in a “killbox,” another much better title. Better yet, just skip it altogether.

One Star

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One Comment

  1. You’d be better off watching “The Protege.” Decent plot/storyline bolstered by Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson, and also by Maggie Q, who actually looks like she could be pulling off some of the action in the movie. After watching Jessica Chastain struggle to make it look like she had ever gone jogging in her first female assassin movie, Ava, I didn’t think they would try to put her in another one of these. Guess some studio person thought differently.

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