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Friday, October 26, 2018

Hunter Killer

Compared to some of Gerard Butler's recent attempts at thrillers (I'm looking at you, Geostorm!), Hunter Killer is at least watchable, and it contains some decent practical effects.  It's also bogged down in way too much plot, way too many characters that the movie doesn't bother to develop, and a ludicrous theme that oversimplifies the complex relations between the U.S. and Russia.   It wants so much to be a Tom Clancy-style thriller, and it would have succeeded if it had just trimmed away a lot of the excess that clogs up the narrative.

This is the kind of movie that introduces us to our hero, Joe Glass (Butler), as he is hunting in the Scotland woods.  He comes across a deer, and is about to kill it, when he notices it has a family following after it.  He puts down his bow, and lets the deer continue on its merry way.  Not only does this scene tell us that Joe has a heart of gold, but it's about the closest we get to character development for him in the film's two hour run time.  Joe is then called upon to take command of the USS Arkansas submarine, and to investigate a recent incident where a Russian sub sunk an American vessel after it was believed the Americans fired upon them.  Or did they?  Joe is put in charge of a team of faceless young extras who speak only in military movie cliches.  They have studied their jobs well, and can say lines like "Brace for impact!" and "Fire the torpedoes!" with total ease. 

They find the wrecked sub, but something is suspicious.  The hole in the side of the ship did not come from an outside torpedo, it was blown up from the inside.  Joe suspects sabotage.  At that same moment, over in Russia, we meet the Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), who is betrayed by his scheming Defense Minister Dmitri Durov (Michael Gor, playing the role as if he were playing a Bond Villain).  Dimitri wants to ignite war between the U.S. and Russia, and is trying to stir up hostility and confusion on both sides.  As a matter of fact, at that same moment over in Washington D.C., we find Adm. Donnegan (Gary Oldman, in one of his paycheck cashing roles) trying to convince the President that they should strike at Russia.  However, the much cooler-headed Rear Adm. John Fisk (Common) and NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist (an underused Linda Cardellini) think something doesn't smell right, and want to send some ground troops into Russia in order to investigate.

This leads us right into the third plot of the movie, where some Navy SEALS are dropped intro Russia, and tasked with the mission to rescue President Zakarin, who is being held captive by the evil Dimitri.  The SEALS do a lot of heroics, get in many shootouts, and try to get the President to Joe's sub, which is going to transport them to safety.  And while all this is going on, Joe discovers that there are actually some Russian survivors on that sunken sub, brings them aboard, and then gives the Russian Captain (the late Michael Nyqvist) full access to the sub and its systems.  Joe's crew is against this idea, but Joe knows in his gut that he is right, because he and the Russian Captain are both in charge of submarines, and are therefore "brothers".  You figure it out.  Actually, Joe seems to react almost entirely on hunches throughout the entire mission, and seems to get by largely on luck.

Hunter Killer is overloaded with too many military movie cliches, both on the sea and on the ground.  The scenes on the sub at least have some tension (there's a moment where the sub has to make its way through a sea of mines that is actually quite well done) and some very good effects.  The stuff concerning the SEALS and the rescue of the Russian President, however, are the kind of third rate stuff we've seen many times before, where the heroes never miss, and the villains only score a hit when the script says they can.  It also has a share of clunky, overly-scripted lines that the cast don't know how to make sound natural.  Ir ranges from the overly dramatic ("You've doomed us all!") to the just plane awkward. ("I'll see you court martialed for this!"  "Then it's my job to keep you alive so you can!")

This is a perfectly watchable and standard movie that is just overstuffed and filled with too much familiar dialogue spoken by characters we know next to nothing about.  We can admire the craft of the film, and a couple tense moments, but in the end, it never builds to anything all that special.  Like too many movies I've seen lately, it's okay for what it is, but I doubt I'll remember much of anything about it come the end of the year.

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