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"HUNTER KILLER"
(2018) (Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action-Thriller: A U.S. sub and her untested commander are ordered to Russia to rescue a Navy SEAL team tasked with extracting the Russian President, who's been the target of a military coup.
PLOT:
In Russian waters, both an American submarine and the Russian sub it had been tracking suffer major damage in a coordinated attack. The USS Arkansas under the command of the untested Captain Joe Glass (GERARD BUTLER) is ordered to investigate and prevent World War III if possible. Along the way, Glass has to deal with an insubordinate XO, Brian Edwards (CARTER MacINTYRE); gain the trust of a captured Russian sub captain, Andropov (Michael NYQVIST); and earn the loyalty of his new crew.

Little does he know that both subs were sunk on the orders of Admiral Dmitri Durov (MICHAEL GOR), a member of Russia's Defense Ministry who has successfully staged a military coup on President Zakarin (ALEXANDER DIACHENKO) who he sees as weak and indecisive. Durov moves quickly to consolidate his power and reposition the Russian fleet for a showdown with the American navy.

In Washington, Pentagon commander John Fisk (COMMON) quarrels with NSA operative Jayne Norquist (LINDA CARDELLINI) and Charles Donnegan (GARY OLDMAN), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, over how to respond to the threat. President Dover (CAROLINE GOODALL) ultimately decides to go to DEFCON 2, move the U.S. fleet to a defensive posture in the Atlantic Ocean, and green-light Fisk's plan to send a four-member Navy SEAL team led by Bill Beaman (TOBY STEPHENS) to extract Zakarin and escape aboard the USS Arkansas.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
"Hunter Killer" is a combination of "Crimson Tide," "Lone Survivor," and "Air Force One" all rolled up into one. It has the tense submarine thrills of "Tide" or "The Hunt for Red October" with Naval seaman, slight beads of sweat on their foreheads, barking out such tried-and-true lines as "Captain, torpedo in the water!" "Launch countermeasures!" and (my personal favorite) "Dive! Dive!" But it also has a small platoon of Special Forces on a suicide mission to rescue the Russian president, the victim of a military coup, who get whittled down as the mission gets increasingly tense and bloody. And back in the halls of power in Washington, there are bureaucrats and war-mongering military types eager to start World War III -- if this mission doesn't go as planned!!!

OK, yes. All clichés. Everything in this film, you've seen before. And, man, are there some hammy performances mixed in with completely believable ones. But I dunno. "Hunter Killer" caught me on just the right night. It's a rah-rah, jingoistic American military thriller, and some will blast it just for that and that alone. But as such, it's pretty darn entertaining. I was never once bored. And there are a couple of sequences that are exquisitely filmed.

Gerard Butler stars here as Captain Joe Glass. Yes, Joe Glass. Just accept it. Glass is the untested commander of the USS Arkansas, an American submarine ordered to investigate the disappearance and likely destruction of another U.S. sub off the coast of Russia. En route, Glass and crew get new orders. Navigate a dangerous fjord into Polyarny where they will rescue a Navy SEAL team that has hopefully extracted the Russian president, who has been the target of a military coup.

The action indeed takes place on three fronts. The first is inside the pressure cooker that is the USS Arkansas where Glass' second in command is seemingly questioning his every decision, the young crew are scared out of their wits, and suspicion builds as Glass comes to rely on a recently captured Russian sub captain (the late Michael Nyqvist, in one of his final roles). The second is on the ground in Russia, where the small Special Ops squad led by Toby Stephens' SEAL Commander Beaman and his men get into running firefights with Russian troops. And the third is in the Situation Room at the Pentagon where Gary Oldman's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is all-too-ready to go to war even as military operatives played by Common and Linda Cardellini insist on giving Glass and Beaman every chance to pull off the impossible.

The mission is pretty involving -- eh, if you just sort of ignore that this isn't our real world that is at stake here. The Russian president is a young, buff beefcake of a man. The American president (Caroline Goodall) is a woman, completely calm-headed under pressure. And the U.S.-Russia power struggle feels more 1980s-era Cold War (or, at least, '90s-era remnant rivalry a la "Crimson Tide" and "Air Force One") than today's dynamic.

Oldman is laughably over the top as an American war hawk here, giving his most hysterical and over-the-top performance since "The Space Between Us." Oldman has one trick in this movie that had audience members guffawing. He would say one line very quiet. Then immediately follow that by saying the same line REALLY LOUDLY!!! So, you'd have a scene play out like this, "You have no exit plan -- YOU HAVE NO FREAKIN' EXIT PLAN!!!" I'm always looking for new ways to command respect in my household. I'm going to give it a try. How about the next family dinner? "Would someone please pass me the salt? WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE PASS ME THE FREAKIN' SALT?!?!"

It appears this film has been on the shelf for some time, considering that Goodall's U.S. president is more than a bit "Hillary-esque." The media notes say it was shot prior to Oldman filming his Oscar-winning turn in "Darkest Hour," and Nyqvist was indeed alive and somewhat well (the man died of cancer in June of 2017). So, I concede, it's stale and more than a bit hackneyed. But it's really well-paced, I loved the sequence where the Arkansas has to navigate an underwater minefield, and the overall production has no pretensions of being anything more than a meat-and-potatoes thriller lovingly made for the mainstream mall-cineplex crowds. I'm making a command decision and holding my fire on this one. It entertained me! I rate it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 24, 2018 / Posted October 26, 2018


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