LIMA — First and foremost, the cryptic title “The 355” refers to U.S. Patriots’ codename for a female spy during the American Revolution.
As directed by Simon Kinberg, a producer best-known for the “X-Men” franchise, “The 355” is a prototypical popcorn flick with engaging characters and crackling action. The filmmakers assembled a quintet of appealing and serviceable stars: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.
That isn’t to say the movie is always appealing; it lacks distinctive camerawork, scene-setting and is nothing if not predictable. To wit: The narrative’s stab at a climactic twist is foreseeable to anybody who has watched a movie or TV show wherein a key character allegedly died, though we never see the corpse.
The premise and plot: CIA agent “Mace” (Chastain) teams up with an ex-ally and computer whiz (Nyong’o), a German spy with daddy issues (Kruger) and a Colombian shrink (Cruz) who wants no part of the looming danger.
What’s at stake? A top-secret weapon (so much for originality). Red herrings constantly surface in the form of CIA and FBI figureheads, love interests and an enigmatic Chinese agent (Bingbing) who enters the fray late in the day. Those strange bedfellows have no business being teammates, but as the technical specialist among them explains: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Kinberg and crew don’t try to hide comparisons to “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond 007 adventures. “The 355” viewers – not many, based on its paltry box-office profits – are treated to car chases, suspects fleeing on foot, fights that wouldn’t be amiss in a “Batman” episode and shootouts.
Chastain, often pigeon-holed as a heroine in military and political films – think “Ava,” “Miss Sloane” and “Zero Dark Thirty” – rises above the material. While inhabiting superior roles in “The Help,” “Molly’s Game” and flawless “Lawless,” she has proven to be one of our most versatile actors.
Nyong’o and Cruz also acquit themselves well and emerge unscathed, as does male counterpart Sebastian Stan, whose natural demeanor makes his antagonist easy to hate.
One staple of similar action thrillers and crime capers is whirlwind globetrotting, with which “The 355” doesn’t disappoint thanks to visual feasts of Shanghai, Bogota, Morocco and Paris.
Regardless of which characters are sparring where, implausibility is the order of the day. No matter the secret agent’s codename or number, what she’s up to amounts to fuzzy math.
Reach James Luksic at 567-242-0399.