Review: ‘The 355’

Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o And A Dynamite Cast Can't Salvage This Impossibly Lame Mission

The 355 shouldn’t be this bad. There’s no reason for it with so much awesome female talent across the board: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, and Penelope Cruz! Plus, if you care about that other gender having a cup of coffee in this thing, Sebastian Stan and Edgar Ramirez! It’s enough to blow your socks off…in theory. In actual execution, this bland “action”/spy flick is a deliberate chore one that seems designed for maximum eyeroll energy.

What’s most sad about this is that The 355 is a film definitely in my wheelhouse, as anybody who read my reviews last year of The Protege, Gunpowder Milkshake, and Kate well know. But The 355 isn’t even giving us “so bad it’s fun” vibes. It feels more like Jessica Chastain and her Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg figuring out how much they can get away with. It’s like the espionage equivalent of one of those terrible Adam Sandler comedies where he just invites all of his buddies to hang out and get paid for vacationing. Except here, Chastain has dialed up all of her friends to deliver some high heat boss girl power where the ladies save the day and make the guys look like stiffs. Theoretically, I’m down for all of that.

The problem is that you can’t have girl power if the girls aren’t interesting. And trust me, these she-spies are anything but. The extent of their personalties, for the most part, is that they are female, can shoot guns or crack codes, but not much else. What passes for a plot finds an electronic MacGuffin that can do something really awful falling into the hands of some bad people who will do bad things with it. Chastain, who helped spearhead this project as a producer, plays brassy CIA agent Mace Brown, who recruits her tech guru pal Khadija into the mission. Kruger is badass German agent Marie, who initially squares off with Mace before realizing these two queens are better off working together. Also in the mix is Cruz as Colombian psychologist Graciela, who has never been forced into the field until now.

It’s a combustible mix of personalities, or at least it would be if any of them weren’t so easily defined. What’s sad about The 355 is the script by Kinberg and Catwoman writer (!!!) Theresa Rebeck doesn’t give us much reason to care about any of them. This is as generic an action movie as any cast with a bunch of musclebound dudes, but there’s this sense that the people behind The 355 think they’ve made something better. Put Bruce Willis in this and send it straight to digital and nobody would notice.

While the globe-hopping locales (including Morocco and Paris) keep the setting fresh, the action choreography lacks any coherence or visceral quality. I’m not saying it needs to be John Wick, but can it not be…I dunno, Bangkok Dangerous?

When I think of “355” it reminds me of Agent 355 from Y: The Last Man, a deeply complex but dogged operative based on a real-life female spy for the U.S. who worked as part of the Culper Ring. Although that agent’s identity remains unknown, I bet her actual story is worth telling more than this dreadful fictional one.

The 355 is playing in theaters now.


The 355
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-the-355The problem is that you can't have girl power if the girls aren't interesting. And trust me, these she-spies are anything but.