The 355 (2022)
Work together or die alone.
When an operation to buy an advanced cyberweapon from a rogue Colombian DNI agent, Luis Rojas (Édgar Ramírez), goes awry, CIA agent Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) is killed in action. Keen for revenge and to get the McGuffin back (it’s one of those “can crack any password” programs that have been popular as plot engines since at least 1992’s Sneakers), his partner Mason “Mace” Browne (Jessica Chastain) goes off the books and up against international crime lord Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng). Not to worry, as the film progresses, she recruits a formidable gang of allies, including computer expert and former MI-6 operative Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o), German BND badass Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), Chinese spy Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing), and Colombian psychiatrist Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz). Cue chases, shoot-outs, the odd double-cross — you know this sort of thing.
While guys-on-a-mission movies are pretty common hereabouts, it’s actually surprising that we don’t get at least the occasional girls-on-a-mission film. All that comes readily to minds in terms of American cinema is Ocean’s 8 (2018), that one bit in the climax of Avengers: Endgame (2019), and the all-woman Western misfire Bad Girls all the way back in 1994 (look to Hong Kong for a fair few distaff actioners, though). For whatever reason, that pretty basic change to the formula has never been explored much until now, although occasionally, a project like Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables (2010) is mooted. What that means is that The 355, whatever its many faults may be, is somehow a novelty in the year 2022, when it should be just the latest variant on a subtype.
But once you put aside the novelty factor, The 355 is, at best, passable. Chastain and company are effectively running through a rote Mission: Impossible plot, chasing a thingy from Paris to London to Morocco to Shanghai, tussling with bad guys, and orchestrating little scams and infiltrations as needed along the way. It’s never surprising, but it’s never boring, either — there’s enough gas in the tank and talent in the cast to keep things ticking over, even if writer and director Simon Kinberg’s complete lack of affinity for the subject matter and genre is apparent in every scene. It’s interesting to ponder what a more stylish and assured director might have made of the material; we certainly wouldn’t have gotten most recent Bond helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga on something like this, but it does seem like the sort of genre fodder that Steven Soderbergh is attracted to when he’s in a playful mood.
Instead, we get a film that keeps a median reading of “diverting” as it proceeds, occasionally dipping when the fight choreography falters, occasionally rising when Diane Kruger or Lupita Nyong’o are given a character moment or something cool to do. They’re the clear MVPs in this one, with Kruger the ice-cold hitter and Nyong’o the reluctant spy pulled back into the game. Chastain, who also produces, is doing another slight variation on the Hypercompetent Woman in a Man’s World thing she’s got down pat — Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Miss Sloane (2016), Molly’s Game (2017) — while Cruz is game but miscast as the awkward civilian caught up in the action — Cruz is a hugely talented actor, but very little about her says “working mum in over her head.” Fan Bingbing’s character is basically a deus ex machina whose specialty is moving the plot along with some behind-the-scenes string-pulling, which means she doesn’t have much to do except look fantastic and deliver a line or three of expository dialogue once in a while. It’d be great to see Fan get a role in an American film that lets her actually act, but this isn’t it.
All up, The 355 is fine enough (the title is a reference to the code number of an unknown female spy in Washington’s Culpepper Ring during the American Revolution — which is just a little too convoluted to be clever). There’s a ‘90s kind of vibe to it, with its straight-up evil villains, stoic dialogue, self-serious tone, and high-concept low-logic plot, that for me makes it a bit more forgivable — I just imagine I rented it when all the copies of Con Air (1997) were out at Blockbuster. It won’t linger in the memory long, though — although clearly intended to set up a franchise, in the grim world of 2022, far from the cozy suburban video store shelves of my youth, its destiny is to be a square on a streaming service menu that rarely, if ever, gets clicked.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Travis Johnson