There are different kinds of action movies, some that seek to deliver nonstop thrills and others that stop to consider the logic of what propels that ride. Coherence and common sense aren’t crucial to a successful action flick, nor is gravity (see multiple installments of the Fast and the Furious franchise), but they can enhance it and make it easier to digest. Early January is never the best time to anticipate top-tier cinema releases, and while The 355 is no classic and not even a great movie, it does deliver popcorn entertainment that those venturing out should make sure is currently being served at their local cinemas to consume while ignoring its shortcomings.
This film, whose title isn’t explained until shortly before its end credits roll, assembles five women, all of whom are considerably more competent and skilled than every other (male) character in the film believes, for a revenge job that doubles as an effort to save the world. Naturally, the governmental organizations they work for have turned their backs on them and they’re alone in this fight, united only by their ragtag grouping, which, again, shouldn’t be underestimated but constantly is. Assessing the plot more than that isn’t necessary, but it’s worth noting that, as with many such storylines, the bad guys need precisely one thing from the people they’re hunting yet have universal access to anything else they could possibly need.
What does work in The 355, which runs just over two hours, is the action. Those scenes are frequent and introduced by a sudden musical cue that amps up the excitement and prepares viewers for hand-to-hand combat and lengthy chases. While some vehicles are involved, they’re usually not needed, since these women can run and fight with their bare hands without any assistance. This is not a movie that belittles its female characters. That job is left to its egotistical males who think they know better and who don’t think much, in their own words, of a bunch of girls.
The talent enlisted for this film is considerable, and a few of them have played similar roles in the past. German actress Diane Kruger brings her determination and investigative know-how from The Bridge, American actress Jessica Chastain invokes her weapons training from Ava, and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o channels her calm under pressure put to excellent effect in Little Monsters. They’re joined by Chinese actress Bingbing Fan and Spanish actress Penélope Cruz as equally competent women whose talents aren’t appreciated by most who come into contact with them.
Though it would have seemed fitting for this film to come from a female director, it’s helmed instead by Simon Kinberg, whose only previous outing behind the camera for a movie was the poorly-received X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Kinberg does what’s expected of him here, keeping a story moving that is best experienced without stopping to ponder the questions that should have come up in the script, which he also penned with Theresa Rebeck and Bek Smith. It’s hardly high art, but this film need not be maligned in the way it widely has been thus far.
It’s true that assembling these five actresses, who share two Oscars and six nominations, could have been put to much better use. But so many talented performers take jobs that offer a big paycheck since their blockbuster nature is sure to attract audiences not looking to pass a test in order to enjoy the latest movie they’re seeing, and that’s just a different kind of movie experience. Whether this film will be able to entice moviegoers is unknown, but the current state of the world and the likely closures of theaters makes this film more of an instance of bad timing than of a truly terrible product.
The 355 will be released in theaters on Friday, January 7th.