One of the many great scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction features a Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) conversation as they sit in a “wax museum with a pulse”. In the haze of cigarette smoke and waiters dressed up like Buddy Holly, Vega mentions he had heard Mia was in failed TV pilot. The pilot in question, is called “Fox Force Five” she says. The fake show discussed by the characters revolved around a team of female secret agents bearing the title name. Each “fox”, has their own special ability and are described as being as diverse as the cast featured in Simon Kinberg’s new spy thriller, The 355. That conversation lasts barely two minutes, but the premise of “Fox Force Five” feels more fleshed out in that short time, than Kinberg’s newest film does in its 122 minute run time.
Obviously I am being facetious and unfair to some degree. But, even so, The 355 is certainly another lifeless directorial effort from Kinberg who stepped behind the camera for the first time in 2019 with his lackluster and spectacularly dull Dark Phoenix. It was the conclusion of the well received X-Men “new class” franchise of films which featured some hits. Responsible for some of that canon’s best films as a producer, it was obvious that didn’t translate when it took time to step in the director’s chair. In The 355, Kinberg is working with a stacked cast, much like his X-Men films. Yet once again, he is unable to make a movie with any semblance of life or coherence. The film stars two Oscar winners in Lupita Nyong’o and Penelope Cruz, two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger who is an underrated actress in her own right, and Fan Bingbing an actress with some great action chops. Kinberg manages to still make a film lacking coherent direction or a plot that is worthwhile.
The films five leading ladies are not the problem here. In fact, they are trying their hardest to save this movie and often their charm and chemistry work. It isn’t often enough however to salvage the film. Chastain plays an American spy who teams up with badass secret agents from other countries. Together, the team works to protect a top-secret weapon that has, you guessed it, fallen into the wrong hands. Of course, you’ve heard this plot before. But even that is not the problem with this movie. Spy movies thrive on MacGuffins like the drive the women are chasing in this film. Kinberg’s script, co-written with Catwoman scribe Therese Rebeck and newcomer Bek Smith, doesn’t steer clear of the cliche trappings of the genre.
The film ultimately feels bloated from its overly long runtime as a result of its inability to stand out from the pack. Its nauseating shaky cam action is rendered incoherent by bad editing from the offset. The films opening chase scene sets into motion what ultimately becomes a predictable slog with plot mechanics you’ve seen in better movies. Not that every spy thriller can or needs to be as good as James Bond flicks can be at their best, or even as great as the best spy-romance films of the 1940’s. Even it’s side characters, Sebastian Stan in particular, have arcs that you can see coming a mile away. It’s the type of writing that makes you groan in your seat “I could’ve written this movie”.
The 355 promised some potential with a great cast on board. But, its execution mirrors a great sports team that looks good on paper but ultimately fails to reach its potential. Kinberg, though working in a world of CGI for the most part, has produced films that handle action and suspense much better than his sophomore directorial effort. Movie making is hard, but taken at face value, The 355 is nothing more than another January dump-off movie that will come and go in the blink of an eye. It’s the kind of movie that come December you’ll say “oh that was this year?”. Much like Mia Wallace’s self proclaimed failed pilot being her “fifteen minutes of fame”, The 355 as a movie, is bound for the same destiny.