Early on in Simon Kinberg’s team-on-a-mission thriller The 355, one operative is described as being “good at everything except taking orders”. We’ve encountered this kind of maverick profiling before, of course, but the cliché isn’t the primary problem here.
While The 355 offers a welcome opportunity to see five women bonding to break bones and rules, the film instead emerges as an at-best stubbornly perfunctory mainstream actioner, which rarely deviates from known genre directives or revitalises them.
After a leaden prologue seeds the MacGuffin – a drive that can bring down planes remotely – Jessica Chastain fronts the show as CIA operative Mace, who joins partner Nick (Sebastian Stan) to locate said death-dealing gizmo. When the job goes south, Mace goes rogue (ask not why) and corrals a cadre of world-beating operatives: enter quick-scrolling techie Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), wild-card agent Marie (Diane Kruger) and, er, psychologist Graciela (Penélope Cruz) to secure the drive.
Fan Bingbing’s Lin arrives almost as an afterthought, a delayed entrance that pinpoints the problems here. Kinberg’s struggles to juggle and energise a globe-trotting ensemble continue from X-Men: Dark Phoenix, where he and Chastain hatched The 355. While the sketchy convolutions required to involve Graciela creak with contrivance, the twists circling Lin’s character land too late for impact.
The humourless exposition used to establish character and plot proves equally flattening, a problem rarely ameliorated by the action sequences. Sadly, The 355 either cuts its set-pieces to choppy-cam shreds or leaves them sagging while failing to keep pace with parallel narrative threads. The draggy interplay between an auction episode and a fight scene saps the energy from the scrap; elsewhere, Khadijah’s redundant running commentary on an under-powered harbourside pursuit has a deflating effect.
The result is an action thriller that struggles to summon the requirements of punch and pace, personality and wit. The leads try their best, notably a charismatic Chastain and a quick, sharp Nyong’o, though it’s a pity the steely Kruger is under-deployed. Intentionally or not, Cruz simply resembles an awkward stowaway.
While a few tense set-pieces - a marketplace shakedown, a hostage scenario - take up some slack, The 355 never shakes off a sense of wasted talent and opportunity. By the time Kinberg resorts to obliterating skyscraper floors for effect, his fusillade of the over-familiar is running on empty.
The 355 hits cinemas on January 7.