The 355 is a painfully mediocre way to ring in the new year. This predictable and nearly emotionless spy flick has neither charismatic characters (despite a recognizable and talented cast) nor any memorable action, turning what could’ve been a fun, star-studded, globe-trotting adventure with a bunch of kickass secret agents into a relentlessly dull two hours.
Directed by Simon Kinberg and co-written by Theresa Rebeck, the film follows CIA agent Mace Brown (Jessica Chastain) as she’s sent on a mission to track down a top-secret weapon. The weapon in question is a catch-all hacking device that can infiltrate anything in the world; taking down planes, knocking out power to entire cities, controlling governments, you get the picture.
Rival agencies from around the world also want their hands on the device, resulting in a competitive chase between Mace and her computer specializing friend Khadija (Lupita Nyong’o), a German agent named Marie (Diane Kruger), Chinese agent Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan), and others like Spanish psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz). The idea of several different but equally skilled characters all going after the same object can be a fun setup, and it makes for the film’s only interesting angle.
But that’s over far too quickly and thanks to the easy alliance that forms between everyone under the banner of keeping the device out of the “wrong” hands. It’s especially strange to watch the movie make a point of how none of these women are particularly trusting due to their pasts and, you know, their line of work, only to then trust a variety of people at once despite having no actual reasons for trusting any of them.
The nonsense truly hits its peak halfway through when everyone inexplicably decides to just let Mace hand everything over to the CIA. Surely some of these other agencies from different countries wouldn’t want that? The 355 features some physically improbable feats as well, like a scene where Marie is being pursued by Mace in a subway station only to magically appear inside of a train car after barely getting out of its way seconds before. Our suspension of disbelief can only go so far – if Marie had somehow managed to climb onto the car, that’s one thing, but showing up inside of it? Don’t think so.
These things might be excusable in a film that has a little more life and personality, so the fact that the woefully generic The 355 is devoid of either one makes its storytelling issues all the more glaring. Take, for example, the film’s reveal that Nick (Sebastian Stan), who we are introduced to as Mace’s romantic partner at the start of the movie, is actually a villain. Now some may cry spoiler, but the film does that all on its own – the first 15 minutes follows a botched mission by Mace and Nick that ends with the latter meeting up with who we know to be the bad guys, while Mace believes him to be dead.
This wouldn’t be a problem if we then cut to Nick once or twice to see what he’s up to before the inevitable reveal that he’s alive, yet The 355 does no such thing. We don’t see Nick again until Mace does, and while it has the proper impact on her, it’s something the audience already knows. Why not make some sort of attempt to fool us into believing – like the protagonist does – that he’s dead, so the reveal that he’s not actually has weight? Even if it’s still obvious, and it probably would be, it at least would be trying to tie our surprise and emotion to that of the main character.
For all of its struggles, The 355 is still mostly competently put together and its cast does what they can with the material to lift it as much as they can. Though that doesn’t make for a particularly good movie. It’s only after a very boring hour and a half that things finally get somewhat exciting in the lead-up to the final showdown – this is when things genuinely start to work and the action becomes dynamic. Unfortunately, it’s just too little, far too late.