While its title may be lacking, there’s certainly no shortage of star wattage in the upcoming action spy thriller “The 355”. Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan and Édgar Ramírez front-load this straightforward female-led romp that finds itself in the dismal movie wasteland known as January. That’s when studios notoriously dump movies they don’t really expect to do well.
“The 355” doesn’t exactly break the mold, but it’s also not your usually January movie mush. It’s actually the kind of movie that comes at just the right time for me. After two months of cramming in countless films for end-of-the-year awards consideration and with the surging Omicron variant weighing down morale, spending two hours with an action-packed shoot-em-up filled with personalities I enjoy doesn’t sound too bad.
With “The 355”, Simon Kinberg directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck. Think “Mission: Impossible” meets the “Oceans” movie but with a little flavor of its own. The film opens in Columbia where with a cartel boss attempting to sell a Euro-terrorist a data key that can hack into and control any closed network in the world. Power grids, jet planes, cell phones – whoever possesses the key can essentially control (or destroy) anything. The deal goes bad and Colombian Intelligence led by Agent Luis Rojas (Ramírez) swoop down and secure the hard drive that contains the data key.
From Colombia to Paris, CIA agents Mace (Chastain) and her colleague/close friend Nick Fowler (Stan) converge on the City of Lights after getting wind that Luis has went rogue and is set to sell the hard drive (or is he?). But just as they’re about to apprehend Luis, Agent Marie Schmidt (Kruger) of Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (that’s their CIA) crashes the op in order to seize the hard drive for her government. Both sides want to ensure the data key doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, but they keep getting in each other’s way.
Add to the equation Graciela (Cruz), a psychologist for Colombia’s DNI (yep, that’s their intelligence agency). She’s sent to Paris to convince Luis to come back to Columbia and turn himself in. Meanwhile Mace travels to London to recruit her old friend Khadijah (Nyong’o), a tech savvy cyber-security expert and former MI6 agent, to help track down Luis. And if all of that isn’t enough, another mysterious party (Bingbing) is observing from afar. What’s she after? Who does she work for?
As all of these agencies battle logistics, bureaucracies and each other, the real villains are able to secure the hard drive. This forces Mace, Marie, Khadijah and Graciela to reluctantly join forces if they’re to have any hope of stopping the baddies from potentially triggering World War III. It’s rough going at first, with all of them operating under the mantra “don’t trust anyone”. But as the plot thickens and the action intensifies, the ladies begin to gel.
While there’s plenty about the story that’s familiar, there are enough twists, turns and double-crosses to keep us guessing. And while these genre flicks tend to be pretty outrageous, Kinberg’s pacing is brisk and fluid to the point that we’re always moving forward and never have time to worry if all the pieces perfectly fit into place. And of course there’s the action. With the exception of one motorcycle get-away that’s edited within an inch of its life, the action is fun and kinetic. Highlights include a couple of terrific fight sequences with Chastain and a jaw-dropping bullet-ridden finale through the top floors of a skyscraper.
I also enjoyed the performances which (considering the talent) shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear are really good. The actresses are handed characters who are given a few extra layers of depth (not many but enough). For example, Mace’s intense dedication and commitment to her work helps hide the loneliness she feels when not on a mission. The hard-nosed Marie has a track record of insubordination to go along with some serious daddy issues. Graciela is a therapist rather than field agent, and she only wants to go back home to her husband and young son in Colombia. Khadijah has found happiness after leaving MI6 but leaves it behind for another field mission.
“The 355” won’t exactly stick with you long after seeing it, nor is it the kind of movie that will wow you with its originality and vision. But it is light and breezy entertainment that happily wears its influences on it’s sleeve. A great female-led cast brings confidence and energy to material that at times needs to be propped up. Still, I was in just the right mood for something like this – something where I could kick back, soak up the style, giggle at the silliness, be thrilled by the physicality, and watch performers I enjoy having an absolute blast. Ultimately, what’s wrong with that? “The 355” opens in theaters tomorrow (1/7).