[Screen It]


"THE 355"
(2022) (Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o) (PG-13)

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Action: An international group of female spies tries to prevent a device -- that can be used to hack into and disrupt any computer or electronics system in the world -- from falling into the wrong hands.

An electronic device -- capable of hacking into and disrupting any computer or electronics system in the world -- has been created, with various bad people obviously wanting to get their hands on it and various governments wanting to prevent that from happening. From Columbia, agent Luis Rojas (EDGAR RAMIREZ) is the first on the scene, with government psychologist Graciela Rivera (PENELOPE CRUZ) showing up to lend support.

From the CIA, Mason "Mace" Browne (JESSICA CHASTAIN) and Nick Fowler (SEBASTIAN STAN) are to pose as honeymooners in Paris to try to get that, but German agent Marie Schmidt (DIANE KRUGER) thwarts their efforts, with Mace then turning to MI6 cybersecurity expert Khadijah Adiyeme (LUPITA NYONG'O) for help.

As those women travel around the world in pursuit of the device, they must contend with treachery and a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (BINGBING FAN), who shows up later in the proceedings, all hoping to prevent something calamitous from occurring if the device ends up in the wrong hands.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10

Speaking from experience, writing a screenplay is a tough ordeal, especially when done solo, what with having to crank out somewhere from 90 to 120 pages of scenes, dialogue, and everything that accompanies all of that. Surprisingly, though, sometimes the seemingly short stuff is equally as hard.

I recall overhearing a call long ago between my college professor and alumna who had made it big in a then mostly male-dominated industry. She was trying to nail down the logline (what we call the "quick take") and was having a devil of a time whittling down her material into just one sentence.

Heck, sometimes the title can be the hardest thing to come up with as you want it to grab the viewer and, hopefully, explain something about the film to lure them in. Ones like "Jaws" and "The Godfather" are pretty self-explanatory. "Back to the Future" and "Romancing the Stone" are intriguing.

"The 355" is well, I don't know, maybe a "Fast and Furious" spin-off set on a new freeway in Los Angeles? Or maybe a gang movie that takes place in the newly assigned area code of the same number? Could it be a romantic comedy about the tenth day before the end of the year?

No, instead, it's named for "Agent 355," the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution. Okay, that sounds fairly interesting, but unfortunately, the movie isn't about her. In fact, it's only briefly alluded to in a throw-away line near the end of our film that features an international cast of female spy characters in the modern-day who are tasked with saving the world.

From what, you may ask. Well, a high-tech device that can hack into any electronics or computer system in the world and wreak havoc. Don't you hate when that happens? Of course, you do, just like many movie heroes who must then save the day as occurs in the likes of the James Bond and Mission: Impossible movies all of the time.

As directed by Simon Kinberg from a script he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck, the awkwardly titled action flick follows in the footsteps of "Charlie's Angels" -- without the comedy -- by putting an all-female hero spin on such globetrotting, traditionally male-oriented tales.

Rather than the fellas stepping up, this time we have an international grouping of spy characters played by Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o, Diane Kruger, and, eventually, Bingbing Fan taking the lead, with Penelope Cruz thrown in for, well, I'm not entirely sure beyond "good measure" as she's a Colombian government psychologist who unintentionally gets wrapped up in all of the spying, shooting, and so on.

After the opening sequence demonstrates what the device can do -- knock planes out of the sky, kill the power to major cities, and such -- there's an action scene involving Edgar Ramirez as a covert agent who later apparently needs Cruz's mind services. That's followed by one showing how tough Chastain's Mace character is, including taking one for the team, so to speak, in sleeping with her CIA partner (Sebastian Stan) so that they can convincingly play a honeymooning couple in Paris where the device is currently located.

Kruger's German agent disrupts them getting their hands on that, so Mace turns to Nyong'o's MI6 cybersecurity expert counterpart for help, all of which leads to more globetrotting, one-dimensional villains, and over-edited, shaky-cam action scenes. Despite that often-frenetic nature, what we've been told the device can do (Oh no!), and some treachery that naturally comes along for the ride, the film is surprisingly short on intrigue, suspense, or much else to engage the viewer.

And thus, the overall offering ends up joining the title in terms of being lackluster at best. Desperately in need of a better script and characters, the talented cast can do only so much with the material given to them. Maybe the 355 refers to the collective number of times they asked, "Is this all there is?" regarding that. I'm sticking with it numerically being representative of my score. Kicking off 2022 with a thud, "The 355" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 5, 2022 / Posted January 7, 2022

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