** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Donovan Marsh
STARS Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman
If the new motion picture Hunter Killer were real life, it would merit four stars.
The U.S. President is a smart, compassionate and progressive woman who prefers to spend her time governing effectively rather than sending out factually challenged tweets like some raving lunatic. And instead of allowing itself to be owned by Russia, the United States remains wary of its former Cold War adversary and still keeps a cool distance. Clearly, Hunter Killer is set in some alternate universe, not unlike those seen in vintage Justice League comic books and modern Star Trek movies.
Unfortunately, Hunter Killer isn’t a striking example of cinéma vérité but rather a complete piece of fiction. As such, it’s a rampaging mediocrity, even if it does represent a slight uptick in quality for a movie starring Gerard Butler. Butler, whose resume over the past two years alone includes the laughable trio of Geostorm, London Has Fallen and Gods of Egypt, here plays Joe Glass (presumably no relation to Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass), a submarine captain who is first glimpsed in the film hunting a buck in the most manly of manly fashions, with arrows instead of bullets. But we know right off the bat that Joe is a sensitive macho man since he decides not to kill the animal once he sees it being followed by a doe and a fawn (of course, since most critters have families, why was he even out there hunting in the first place?).
We also learn that Joe is a rarity in the annals of the US military: an officer who never went to any prestigious colleges but instead worked his way up from washing dishes and polishing missiles (in other words, no way he’s a pointy-headed intellectual!). So when Joe is assigned a new sub and a new crew, he tells the slobs working under him that “I know you” and “I am you.” Why he stops short of uttering, “You complete me,” I can’t say.
The reason for Joe being tasked with captaining the USS Arkansas is because the Russian president (handsome Alexander Diachnko, who only looks like Putin in Putin’s own mind) has been taken hostage by his warmongering defense minister (Michael Gor), who hopes to start World War III for some vague reason (maybe he was angry that Kim Jong-un unfriended him on Facebook?). While a trigger-happy American admiral (Gary Oldman) incessantly barks like some yippy Pomeranian, another officer (Common) and an NSA agent (Linda Cardellini) talk the rational U.S. President (Caroline Goodall) into allowing a rescue mission. Thus, four Navy SEALs are ordered to retrieve the Russkie Prez while Glass is assigned to pick everyone up with all the efficiency of a 5-star Uber driver.
Approximately 99.9% of submarine flicks manage to evoke a genuine sense of claustrophobia among audience members peering down all those narrow corridors in a confined space — think back to, for example, Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep or Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot — but Hunter Killer is surprisingly light on the tension. It is, however, heavy on the cock-swinging exchanges, particularly between Glass and his second-in-command (Carter MacIntyre), who’s on hand to raise daft objections simply so Glass can prove his superiority time after time (in short, don’t expect any of these flaccid standoffs to match the sizzling intensity of the battle of wills between Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide). And then there’s Oldman’s gung-ho warhawk, who bellows at levels that would put George S. Patton to shame. Clearly, Oldman made Darkest Hour to nab an Oscar; just as clearly, he made Hunter Killer to nab a sizable paycheck.
The last-act action perks proceedings up a tad, even if it all remains stridently silly. Still, Hunter Killer was taken seriously enough by the Navy, which assisted in the making of the movie. And Butler was even invited to the Pentagon to hold a press conference in support of the film, a real-life/reel-life merger that admittedly is less wacky than most of what’s transpiring around the nation’s capital these days.