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Film Review: Superficial Feminist Credentials Cannot Save Inept “The 355”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 6th, 2022

Film poster: “The 355”

The 355 (Simon Kinberg, 2022) ½ out of 4 stars.

In the final 10 minutes of Vincente Minnelli’s great 1952 epic of Hollywood misdeeds, The Bad and the Beautiful, successful film producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas, delivering the kind of towering performance that made him a bona fide star) gets his shot behind the camera after creative differences lead the first man to quit. The resultant picture is a disaster, mismanaged all the way through. Crestfallen, and surprisingly self-aware for the egomaniac he has become, Shields admits defeat, recognizing that he should have left the movie in more capable hands. As good as he might be in some areas of the business (and he is), he is not cut out to direct.

Would that Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix) could come to the same realization. Helming his second feature, the disastrous The 355, he reveals himself even less adept than before. Stick to producing, please! His body of work in that area may not always be great, but there’s enough quality there to be proud of. Not so in this new role.

l-r: Penélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, and Lupita Nyong’o in THE 355 ©Universal Studios

Which is unfortunate, as there is quite a lot of talent in front of the camera, including the five women on the poster: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Bingbing Fan (I Am Not Madame Bovary), Lupita Nyong’o (Us), and Diane Kruger (In the Fade). Despite their considerable acting chops, they do not all shine, however, though it must be hard to rise above such a pedestrian script (by Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck) and even worse mise-en-scène. The actresses are not helped by awkward compositions, bad lighting, and strange editing choices of the rest of the team, either. No amount of guns and explosions (and there are many) can distract from the true mayhem at narrative center. The 355 is a mess, through and through (and please don’t ask about the title).

As premises go, there is passable intrigue, even if presented in a manner that right away spells cinematic trouble. The son of a Colombian drug lord has created a hard drive that somehow gives its possessor control of the entire global network of, well, everything. Whoever has the drive can disable electrical grids, crash planes and more. In the opening sequence, we watch baddie Jason Flemyng (Iron Mask) attempt to grab it, only to be foiled by local law enforcement. One member of that victorious crew (Edgar Ramírez, Wasp Network) steals it and heads to Paris, looking to sell it to the highest bidder. Enter CIA agent Mace (Chastain) and her partner Nick (Sebastian Stan, The Devil All the Time), who plan to intercept. Unfortunately, they are foiled by German agent Marie (Kruger), and soon all hell breaks loose, with a lot of action but not much engaging adventure.

Bingbing Fan in THE 355 ©Universal Studios

Before long, the British Khadijah (Nyong’o) and Colombian Graciela (Cruz) join the mix (Fan, representing China, will show up later). And since the men mostly prove evil and/or duplicitous, it’s up to the women to save the world. That’s all for the best, but despite a few throwaway lines about toxic masculinity, the feminist credentials feel more mercenary than heartfelt. Otherwise, this is just another violent shoot-‘em-up with unpleasant collateral damage. Much is lost and nothing gained, for all involved.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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