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Hunter Killer Movie Review

Hunter Killer (2018) movie poster Hunter Killer

Theatrical Release: October 26, 2018 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: George Tillman Jr. / Writers: Arne L. Schmidt, Jamie Moss (screenplay); George Wallace, Don Keith (novel Firing Point)

Cast: Gerard Butler (Commander Joe Glass), Gary Oldman (Admiral Charles Donegan), Common (Rear Admiral John Fisk), Linda Cardellini (Jayne Norquist), Toby Stephens (Lieutenant Bill Beaman), Michael Nyqvist (Captain Sergei Andropov), Alexander Diachenko (Russian President Zakarin), Caroline Goodall (US President Ilene Dover), Mikhail Gorevoy (Defence Minister Dmitir Durov), Ilia Volok (Captain Vladimir Sutrev), Zane Holtz (Martinelli),

 

Gerard Butler has had success in a variety of genres this century, from the hyperreal action of 300 to the animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon to romances musical (The Phantom of the Opera),
dramatic (P.S. I Love You), and comedic (The Ugly Truth). Gary Oldman held pivotal roles in three of the century's biggest blockbuster franchises, appearing in the best Planet of the Apes installment (2014's Dawn), some of the finer Harry Potter episodes, and all three chapters of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Just this year, he won the highest honor a member of his profession can, taking the Best Actor Oscar home for his Winston Churchill impression in Darkest Hour.

And yet, the two seasoned middle-aged pros still find themselves here, as the stars of Hunter Killer, an action film inexplicably getting a wide theatrical release from Summit Premiere, a Liongsate branch that specializes in direct-to-video/VOD fare.

Gerard Butler plays Commander Joe Glass, who is assigned to captain the USS Arkansas, the submarine that represents America's best hope of preventing World War III.

When hyphenated, the title refers to an attack submarine, a class of submarine designed chiefly to attack and sink other submarines. After a Navy ship gets attacked and sunk by Russian forces in the Bering Sea, the US government calls in Commander Joe Glass (Butler) to captain the USS Arkansas on a mission to approach the area and respond accordingly.

Glass didn't go to Annapolis and that apparently means something to the crew he is assigned. It doesn't mean anything to us, nor do the crew, all but one of whom are men. As Washington -- the government is personified by Admiral Charles Donnegan (Oldman), Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common), and NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) -- scrambles to figure out what is going on and why, our attentions mostly stay with Glass and his ship, who don't exactly follow the playbook.

They take in survivors from the Russian submarine they attack, most notably Captain Sergei Andropov (the late Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist in one of his final roles), whom Glass gets to cooperate and even navigate the Arkansas through a patch of water full of deadly mines. Meanwhile, on land, mostly bearded Navy SEALs making little impression on us are tasked with taking Russia's kidnapped president (Alexander Diachenko) as a way of ending this apparent coup that's being led by a rogue general. (Interestingly, America's president is played by Caroline Goodall, a strong indication that this summer 2016 production anticipated Hillary Clinton winning the election that fall.)

Gary Oldman, Linda Cardellini, and Common put on their best concerned faces as the government figures observing the USS Arkansas' actions from afar.

Some films are more interesting on paper than in execution. Most are not. Adapted from an obscure 2012 novel by George Wallace and Don Keith, Hunter Killer is every bit as dull and schlocky up on the big screen as it sounds in my synopsis. I'm at a loss to figure out who the audience for this thriller is. Neither Butler nor Oldman have distinct brands the way that Liam Neeson does or Steven Seagal used to.
This isn't the first bad movie they've made, nor will it be the last. Really, I think an inordinate interest in submarines and submarine warfare is something of a prerequisite to caring about all this.

Some tension should be generated from the threat of nuclear war and the claustrophobic nature of the setting, but it is not. Believe it or not, Donovan Marsh, the writer-director of the comedies Spud and Spud 2: The Madness Continues, doesn't seem especially well-suited to treating the viewer to thrills and suspense. Mostly, we're just watching men pretend to be warriors, largely by speaking passionately in narrow spaces surrounded by gadgetry. The childness of it all is never more obvious than in the scene in which the men lean back in sync to indicate the force of the submarine descent. None of the drama is believable or compelling or entertainingly stupid enough to recommend spending any of the two hours this asks of you. But you get all that from the unappetizing red poster, which channels The Hunt for Red October nearly thirty years later.

In that time, no other submarine movie has come close to matching that Jack Ryan introduction commercially. Most, from U-571 to K-19: The Widowmaker, have underperformed, which makes that 2,700-theater count on an historically slow weekend look reckless, especially when you consider the steady business that A Star Is Born, Venom, and, most of all, Halloween continue to draw.

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Reviewed October 25, 2018.



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