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The 355 Review: …wait, what were we talking about again?

The 355 is a mix of great elements from great spy movies, coupled with a great cast – creating a product that is significantly less than the sum of its parts.

In the world of spy action movies, there are movies that push the boundaries of what can be done with technical action. They try out new techniques for cameras, action clarity, setpieces. Some embrace the ludicrousness and fun of the genre and go full throttle with it, and some lean more towards the grittiness and bloody reality of an action hero. In either case, they go along with their premise to craft a clear identity for themselves, something instantly recognizable by a tune or a face or a name. And then we have The 355.

In The 355, a technology super mcguffin has gotten loose and might fall into the wrong hands. When multiple factions and countries send each of their agents after it, a brutal collision of interests occur. And after that, well…have you ever seen the Mission: Impossible movies? Or the Jason Bourne franchise? The James Bond series? Ocean’s Eleven? If you haven’t, then good! You can go watch all those instead! Because The 355 is basically all those movies, only not as crazy as Mission: Impossible, not as well written as the Bourne series, not as stylish as James Bond, and not as smart as Ocean’s Eleven.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due: the cast is far too talented for a plot as impressive as oatmeal. Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, and Penélope Cruz are all putting a lot into their performances. And while their actual characters have barely any depth – so much so that, while I’d normally put their character names here, I can’t, because I’ve already forgotten and I’m not going to see the movie again to find out – they have genuine chemistry with each other. Penélope Cruz is a standout among the grey, as she is the only one that I genuinely wanted to stay alive, albeit for relatively simple reasons. The one character I’d say feels off is Fan Bingbing’s. Her character feels especially thin, especially since she has far less screentime, so the most I can remember is her narrating about herbal tea.

As for the plot, not only is it uninteresting, but it is far too convoluted. It’s trying to be this free-for-all hunt for the mcguffin with multiple points of interests, but that only means there’s less time to set each of them up. And it’s predictable as well. I doubt most are going to go see this film, but still, to tell you in the most non-spoilery way possible…you know when a little kid is trying to throw a surprise party for you, but you can see them peeking out anxiously from behind the sofa with a party hat on? Then you have to pretend like you’re oblivious, because you don’t want to hurt the kid’s feelings. That’s how it feels with this movie.

loud and clear reviews The 355 (Universal Pictures) spy movie
The 355 (Universal Pictures)

Well, there is one thing that I legitimately hated in the movie, actually, and that’s the action direction. More recent movies such as John Wick or Mission: Impossible – Fallout showed that what it takes to shoot great action is dedicated stunts and good camerawork instead of filming like the cameraman is trying to balance on top of a malfunctioning roomba. But then The 355 cannot muster up that effort, as it opts for gratuitous shaky cam, angle changes with every punch thrown, and even piles on a third lazy action tool: jerkily zooming in at random moments like if a 5 year old got hold of a digital camera for the first time.

Because of this, the action scenes are downright sickening. This is especially evident in the multiple chase sequences, where it is virtually impossible to get a clear picture of the overall geography of action, where the characters are, who’s following who, where someone is trying to get to, etc. Perhaps it was trying to emulate the tense, uncertain feeling of the Bourne movies, but that’s the issue with all of these shaky cam action movies: they’re trying to bank off the success of something else without fully grasping what made it work in the first place.

Also, I’ve heard some discussions prior to release that this film is trying to push a female agenda or something with its cast. As far as I can tell, that is not the case. These characters are just characters: I don’t feel like the film says anything strong on empowerment or of that matter. The movie’s not saying much in anything, really, which again is the problem. It’s just…there. Just content to throw in some action onscreen, bits of spy jargon here and there, and call it an acceptable product.

I am honestly surprised the cast even agreed on this movie. At least if it had been terrible, they would maybe have gained some publicity out of that, like Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern or Tom Cruise in The Mummy (2017). But The 355 isn’t even worth the ridicule. It’s just a movie that will pop up for free on a TV network one night, and you could play it in the background while doing yoga or something. I wouldn’t be surprised if, a year from now, the actors forgot they were in the film too. As for me, I definitely know I will forget I even reviewed this.

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