When Gerard Butler sets his jaw it stays set, Mister.
It happens the first time he addresses his crew in “Hunter Killer,” a submarine adventure with more testosterone than a Burt Reynolds look-a-like competition.
And it never gets un-set.
Butler is so alpha male here he might have impregnated any female cast members with a single line reading. Good thing there’s all of three actresses of note in “Hunter Killer.”
This is a manly tale, from Butler’s take no feces stare to the bromance that caps the story. Only the film could use a few extra brain cells to flesh out the logic leaps. It’s like “The Hunt for Red October” if re-written by a scribe who just suffered a serious head blow.
Butler is Captain Joe Glass, a man who has no time for book learnin’. He lands a captain’s seat anyway, steering his sub into Russian waters where an American sub has gone missing. Glass learns the doomed vessel was part of a larger plot, one involving a Russian coup, trapped sailors and the potential for a third World War.
It’s all in a day’s work for Glass, who sweats Red Bull and thinks second guesses are for suckers.
Glass defies orders (he doesn’t play by the rules, you know), embraces an unlikely ally and stares down his second in command, or XO for short.
Sir, yes sir!
Director Donovan Marsh (“Spud“) brings out the heavy artillery early on. The ships look majestic. So do the chilly waters they navigates through. The military might brought to bear is equally impressive. And we haven’t even talked about the Navy SEALs, assembled for a “Mission: Inconceivable” stunt to nab a high value target.
What else ya got?
New alliances are forged, old relationships are tested and Common gets dressed down by Gary Oldman. No one glowers quite like Common, but Oldman is now an Oscar winner, so consider their faceoff a draw.
Nary an action movie cliche goes untouched in “Hunter Killer.” A few lines rise above boiler plate banter, but you’ll go a good 20 minutes between each revelation.
So why is “Hunter Killer” compelling? It’s unabashedly pro military, evoking the steel-spined heroes of the Tom Clancy era. Butler has that Hugh Jackman, “let’s put on a show” vibe that’s hard to ignore. It actually grows on you.
The story itself offers enough sly twists to keep us from checking our watches, even if the assembled characters lack, er, character.
Audiences looking for geo-political relevance will come away disappointed. The narrative never so much as hints at the current world order. nor does anyone feverishly discuss “collusion.”
Sorry, Team Resistance. Go back to “Last Week Tonight.”
It’s the kind of movie where you know subtitles are out of the question, even during scenes where everyone on screen is allegedly from a different country.
Oldman is prominently featured in the film’s marketing. The truth? He has a modest role, doing what he does far too much of lately. He shows up, barks a few orders and then goes back to his trailer.
“Bloodline’s” Linda Cardellini is similarly squandered. She gets a few lines and then disappears for long stretches.
“Hunter Killer” captures a submarine’s claustrophobic setting, which gives even pedestrian scenes a hint of danger. Those smitten with movies where the actors fling themselves back and forth to simulate an attack are in for a treat. You wish they could have thrown in a few “Star Trek” red shirts for the ultimate Easter Egg moment.
The rest falls to Butler, grimacing hard enough to stop Big Ben. He’s a producer on the film, and he knows exactly what a project like this demands sans apology.
HiT or Miss: “Hunter Killer,” based on the book “Firing Point,” occasionally rises to “guilty pleasure” status before sinking fast again.