Hunter Killer is a submarine thriller with no thrills
In Hunter Killer, Gerry Butts (Gerard Butler) plays a man named Joe Glass, a submarine captain who didn’t graduate from Annapolis. This is literally all we know about him, and we know more about him than we do about any other character in the film. Unfortunately for me, a man who finds great pleasure in ridiculous character names (Rocky villains being the high-water mark for the form) he is not playing a man named Hunter Killer. That would have been so cool, and in a movie this corny and pointless, it would have done wonders for making this silly, mostly negative review a bit more positive. So in the interest of pursuing “my truth” Captain Joe Glass will henceforth be referred to as Captain Hunter Killer.
Not that that’s out of the way, let’s get into just what the hell is going on with Gerry Butts right now. Look, there’s no denying that when he wants to do good work, the man can do good work. Even in dumber movies, when he’s tasked with chewing scenery (and marbles, based on the way he speaks at all times) he can be a blast to watch. Den of Thieves, his heist thriller from earlier this year, is a great example of Butts at his most watchable. But when we look at things like Geostorm or Hunter Killer, it’s clear that he was acquired simply as a name to put on the poster, a fact that both the filmmakers and Butts himself seem to know. No, he’s not phoning it in per se, but he’s not bringing anything to the performance that literally any other actor on the planet couldn’t bring. Read the lines, try not to look directly into the camera, then go home and take a nap on a bed full of money.
Then again, the blandness of his performance in Hunter Killer is matched only by the blandness of the movie itself. Outside of the submarine everything is noticeably green screened. Inside the submarine, the actors gather around easily reusable set-pieces involving tubes, monitors, and a table map (any of which are rigged to spring high pressure water leaks, thus adding to the “tension”). The navy uniforms look like felt pajamas, and none of the actors who find themselves wrapped in such comfy looking sleepwear are given anything to do besides receive orders, refute orders, and in the case of on board disasters, yell “get him OUTTA THERE!” Basically, this is a rickety old “submarine movie” machine, with some fresh 3D-printed parts to make it look new again.
Only it doesn’t look new. At all. The CGI is like that of a video game cut-scene, and it is EVERYWHERE. The scenes at sea feature so many moments of actors pantomiming bad sea legs while the camera shakes, that one can’t help but think of old Star Trek episodes (only not good). Put together, we never get the sense that the action is actually happening, or that the crew is really on a submarine. The seams show, and it drains the stakes from every moment, which is a shame considering the lightning pace afforded to Hunter Killer by its refusal to develop, well, anything. If I can offer this film any credit, it’s that off the bat, this movie MOVES.
So here’s the gist: During a routine mission, an American sub tasked with shadowing a Russian sub goes missing. To find out what happened Admiral Common sends another American sub, headed by Captain Hunter Killer, to go check it out. At the same time, a team of seals is deployed to scope out a Russian land base.
Admiral Gary Oldman, who clearly has a summer home he needs to pay for, is pissed about all of this because that’s what you hire Gary Oldman to do. From under his terrible hairpiece, he barks orders at Admiral Common who, with the help of Linda-Cardellini-in-a-suit, is coaching an unconventional merging of the two missions. Why? Because the Russian President is being held hostage by a rogue Russian general! And this general wishes to exploit tensions between the US and Russia to kick off World War III: Tokyo Drift!!
And really, who DOESNT want to watch America and Russia team up to save the world here in lovely 2018?!?
The movie bounces back and forth between the underwater and land missions, both of which are populated by men who speak only in growl. In each crew we find a badass, a pointdexter, and two gruff guys who don’t see eye to eye, but become fast friends by the end. The usual suspects. There are moments of genuine excitement, even if they aren’t fueled by strong character work, as well as a few scenes of genuinely impressive warfare. Nothing new, of course, but big guns shooting big targets while squib-laden stuntmen get rocked by molten lead is a formula that can’t help but elicit a charge from me. I am a simple man with simple tastes. Even so, Hunter Killer, a movie which has sat on a shelf for some time given that one its stars, Michael Nyqvist has been dead for well over a year, is a bit too simple for me.
Hunter Killer opens in Philly theaters today.