Butler did it…again: Sub saga sinks fast
By: Matt Brunson
If the new motion picture Hunter Killer (two stars out of four) were real life, it would merit four stars.
The U.S. President is a smart, compassionate and progressive woman who prefers to spend her time governing effectively rather than sending out factually challenged tweets like some raving lunatic. And instead of allowing itself to be owned by Russia, the United States remains wary of its former Cold War adversary and still keeps a cool distance. Clearly, Hunter Killer is set in some alternate universe, not unlike those seen in vintage Justice League comic books and modern Star Trek movies.
Unfortunately, Hunter Killer isn’t a striking example of cinéma vérité but rather a complete piece of fiction. As such, it’s a rampaging mediocrity, even if it does represent a slight uptick in quality for a movie starring Gerard Butler. Butler, whose resume over the past two years alone includes the laughable trio of Geostorm, London Has Fallen and Gods of Egypt, here plays Joe Glass (presumably no relation to Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass), a submarine captain who is first glimpsed in the film hunting a buck in the manliest of manly fashions, with arrows instead of bullets. But we know right off the bat that Joe is a sensitive macho man since he decides not to kill the animal once he sees it being followed by a doe and a fawn (of course, since most critters have families, why was he even out there hunting in the first place?).
We also learn that Joe is a rarity in the annals of the U.S. military: an officer who never went to any prestigious colleges but instead worked his way up from washing dishes and polishing missiles (in other words, no way he’s a pointy-headed intellectual!). So when Joe is assigned a new sub and a new crew, he tells the slobs working under him that “I know you” and “I am you.” (Why he stops short of uttering, “You complete me,” I can’t say.)
The reason for Joe being tasked with captaining the USS Arkansas is because the Russian president (handsome Alexander Diachenko, who only looks like Putin in Putin’s own mind) has been taken hostage by his warmongering defense minister (Michael Gor), who hopes to start World War III for some vague reason? (Maybe he was angry that Kim Jong-un unfriended him on Facebook?). While a trigger-happy American admiral (Gary Oldman) incessantly barks like some yippy Pomeranian, another officer (Common) and an NSA agent (Linda Cardellini) talk the rational U.S. President (Caroline Goodall) into allowing a rescue mission. Thus, four Navy SEALs are ordered to retrieve the Russkie Prez while Glass is assigned to pick everyone up with all the efficiency of a 5-star Uber driver.
Approximately 99.9 percent of submarine flicks manage to evoke a genuine sense of claustrophobia among audience members peering down all those narrow corridors in a confined space — think back to, for example, Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep or Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot — but Hunter Killer is surprisingly light on the tension. It is, however, heavy on the cock-swinging exchanges, particularly between Glass and his second-in-command (Carter MacIntyre), who’s on hand to raise daft objections simply so Glass can prove his superiority time after time (in short, don’t expect any of these flaccid standoffs to match the sizzling intensity of the battle of wills between Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide). And then there’s Oldman’s gung-ho warhawk, who bellows at levels that would put George S. Patton to shame. Clearly, Oldman made Darkest Hour to nab an Oscar; just as clearly, he made Hunter Killer to nab a sizable paycheck.
The last-act action perks proceedings up a tad, even if it all remains stridently silly. Still, Hunter Killer was taken seriously enough by the Navy, which assisted in the making of the movie. And Butler was even invited to the Pentagon to hold a press conference in support of the film, a real-life/reel-life merger that admittedly is less wacky than most of what’s transpiring around the nation’s capital these days.
AS FANS OF JAMES BOND wait impatiently for the next installment, they can at least take (quantum of?) solace in the fact that there’s a new Johnny English film hitting theaters. Then again, Johnny English Strikes Again (two stars out of four), the third entry in the spoof series, is so devoid of genuine wit that they might be better off staying at home and spending time mulling over who should play 007 post-Daniel Craig.
Even fans of 2003’s Johnny English (raising my hand here) and 2011’s Johnny English Reborn (raising only a finger here) will be disappointed in this creaky comedy that finds Rowan Atkinson again essaying the role of the bumbling British agent who’s decidedly less Bond and infinitely more Clouseau. The plot this time involves English’s efforts to expose a Silicon Valley whiz kid (Jake Lacy) plotting to gain digital control over every nation.
Olga Kurylenko, who played the female lead in the 007 entry Quantum of Solace, appears here as a Russian spy, while Emma Thompson is on hand as the British Prime Minister. Yet only Atkinson matters (although I did appreciate the cameos by the veteran actors playing retired MI7 agents). The British comedian (who, by the way, did once appear in a Bond flick himself, portraying Nigel Small-Fawcett in the non-series effort Never Say Never Again) once again throws himself in his role, but the material just isn’t there this time. There are a few bright bits scattered about, but most of the gags are on the moldy order of English getting stuck inside knight’s armor or smacking someone with a baguette. Such a reliance on antiquated gags of this nature patently marks this film as a Johnny-come-lately.