‘The 355’ Review: Pretty-Looking People Stuck in a Pretty Bland Action Flick

If you Google “standard January movie release” this is what you’ll find staring back at you.

“The 355” stars Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger, and Fan Bingbing as a group of international spies who must put aside their differences to locate a stolen device that could trigger World War III; Sebastian Stan and Édgar Ramírez also star while Simon Kinberg directs.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to get together with your friends and make a movie; Adam Sandler does it once a year. There’s also nothing (inherently) wrong with creating a simple, by-the-numbers action film that is destined to be forgotten the moment you leave the cinema. However, when it comes to a film like “The 355,” the sum of the parts of its cast just leaves way more to be desired than the end product.

While filming “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” under the direction of Simon Kinberg, Jessica Chastain approached him with the desire to launch a female-centered spy franchise. She gathered her crew (half of which are Oscar winners) and on just the cast and concept alone sold the idea to Universal for $20 million. Chastain is rarely bad in her roles (she was pretty good in last year’s little-seen “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), the problem is her films are usually not deserving of her dedication, as is the case here.

None of the main cast seem to be mailing in their roles, which would have been easy to do with a script this messy and with dialogue that plays like it was dusted off from a “How to Write a Spy Adventure” manuscript. It is nice to get to see some of these women kick butt and just have fun with a role, so if you are the type of moviegoer who enjoys a film simply off the names on the marquee then this should ruffle your truffles.

For the rest of us, the action is unfortunately pretty PG-13-ized. There are quick camera cuts right before or after characters are shot, next to no blood, and the edits of the hand-to-hand sequences (which admittedly seem well-choreographed from what I could make out) take away any of the brutality or possible dramatic effect. After seeing what films like “Taken,” “Black Widow,” and “The Dark Knight” could get away with despite a PG-13 rating, there aren’t many excuses left for filmmakers to sanitize their action scenes.

The plot is what you expect from a globe-trotting flick like this: the heroes need to stop a bad guy from getting a MacGuffin device that will trigger World War III, blah blah. It is also the type of film that jumps around locations far too often, but is sure to label every single place for you (thank God they threw “Washington, D.C., U.S.” on screen otherwise I’d have zero clue what city I was looking at that had the Washington Monument). There is another dumb thing the film does that I won’t get into here but it’s becoming more and more common in these types of movies and I really wish Hollywood would stop taking its audiences as idiots.

I personally thought the first half of the film was well-enough paced, but then we got to what I thought was the climax but instead turned out to simply be the 90-minute mark of this 122-minute film; the actual climax then goes on and on with repetitive beats. My friend disagreed and said he felt the whole thing was decently paced, so take all this as you will.

“The 355” (they make a half-hearted attempt at tying in the title in the literal final minute of the film, but 355 was the codename of George Washington’s unnamed female spy in the Revolutionary War) is a pretty bland film filled with pretty people. There are a few good moments sprinkled throughout (a scene where the group tails a man who has their missing device is fun) but in an age where Netflix has “Red Notice” and Amazon Prime put out “Tom Clancy: No Remorse,” this doesn’t feel any more polished than those straight-to-streamer titles.

Critics Rating: 4/10

Universal Pictures

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