Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The 355

Title: The 355

Describe This Movie Using One Spies Like Us Quote:
RUSSIAN: Every minute you don't tell us why you are here, I cut off a finger.
FITZ-HUME: Mine or yours?
RUSSIAN: Yours.
FITZ-HUME: Damn!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Sisters are doin' it for themselves.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 Nintendo Power Gloves out of 5.
Tagline: "Work together or die alone."

Better Tagline: "You son of a bitch, I'm in."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: CIA agent "Mace" (Jessica Chastain) is on the hunt for a cyber-thingy that can hack into any computer-controlled contraption. But she's not alone, also in pursuit are rival BND agent Marie (Diane Kruger), former MI6 agent Khadijah (Lupita Nyong'o), and DNI psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz). The whatchamajigger could spell doom for all mankind, of course, so these agents — belatedly joined by Chinese intelligence operative (Fan Bingbing) — better act quickly and hope the bad guys don't find out who their loved ones are.
"Critical" Analysis: "355" refers to the codename of the anonymous female agent who spied on the British during the American Revolution. Not that you'd know it from the movie of the same name, as this nugget of information only comes up in the closing minutes.

It's also almost wholly irrelevant, given the multinational nature of the assembled team (one of whom is British!), but it's a nice hook.

And maybe if The 355 concerned itself with something grounded rather than yet another technological doomsday MacGuffin, it would have landed more convincingly. Instead, what director Simon Kinberg gives us is a repetitive (if occasionally engaging) clone of just about every other action movie released in the last 20 years.

Which is frustrating, because Chastain, producing under the aegis of her production company Freckle Films, has assembled a hell of a cast. Not coincidentally, she also gets the best fight sequences (and, subsequently, the worst beatings), but Kruger is superb as the German Agent With A Past, while Nyong'o's character might be the most balanced, alternating between hacker-speak gobbledegook and gunplay.

Cruz, disappointingly, is largely sidelined as the damsel in distress, and the movie takes waaay too long to unleash Fan Bingbing, but when she does show up, she's effortlessly badass.

So if most of the cast delivers, what's the problem? Clues point to director Simon Kinberg and co-writer Theresa Rebeck's script, for starters. It throws around intel industry terms like "brush pass" and "kill box," but also gives us dialogue like this:

"A man must cover his tracks."
"Yes he does."


... what?

And for all the alleged novelty of an all-female spy caper, The 355 can't help falling into the same genre tropes that precede it. From the obligatory glamorous heist set piece to the offscreen "death" of an eventual antagonist to the tired romantic angle with same, the only vaguely distinguishing characteristic is the action.

In that respect, at least, the movie delivers. Chastain, Kruger, and especially Fan bring the pain in gratifying ways, and Nyong'o manages to make even the incoherent technobabble interesting. But it's not enough. The movie works best when it ignores the inherent ridiculousness of the premise and hits the gas, but this doesn't happen near enough to keep The 355 from being a slog.

The 355 is in theaters today. Seriously Mace; if you know he's bad, just shoot him like you do literally everybody else.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar