Genre pictures are, by definition, less demanding — of the cast, who are playing archetypes, and of the audience, who share their knowledge of the conventions and tropes these films traffic in , with the filmmakers.
But because crime thrillers, nut-with-a-knife horror movies, combat films, Westerns and the like are so very familiar, you’ve got to raise the bar on those tropes and action beats just to surprise and impress us.
“Stratton” is a special forces thriller that fails to do that. The idea of making a Navy SEALs movie built around Britain’s version of those elite warriors, the “Special Boat Service,” got action veteran Simon West (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”) and stars Dominic Cooper (“An Education,” “Need for Speed”) and Austin Stowell (“Colossal,” “Whiplash”) interested.
It landed Connie Nielsen as Brit-intelligence’s “M” this time out, Derek Jacobi as the “old salt” pal of our hero and the great Thomas Kretschmann as its villain, with Tom Felton along for good measure.
And there’s just nothing to it, nothing surprising anyway.
Cooper has the title role, a scuba-diving soldier who loses a close mate on a mission to destroy a nerve gas factory in the Middle East. It was a joint operation, allowing Stratton to make “Join the Navy, see the world” jokes, only to be corrected by that American pal (Tyler Hoechlin) for stealing the U.S. Navy’s advertising motto.
But that factory penetration (swimming up big water pipes, etc.) and extraction didn’t pay off. Everybody there was already dead, and a master assassin of Russian origin (Kretschmann of “The Pianist”) took the poison and took out that pal.
Time to buck up, get a little pep talk from the geezer who lives on the boat a few slips down in the Thames marina (Jacobi), accept new orders from the chief (Nielsen) and chase down the missing WMD with another Yank (Stowell).
The American has motives beyond his “You go where you feel you can do the most good.” The fact that he says this while inexplicably wearing his medal-bedecked dress blues doesn’t make it any more convincing.
Gemma Chan plays the Julia Stiles or Naomie Harris role in this “Bourne/Bond,” the beautiful field-capable agent on tech duty in support of our team as it ventures to Rome and beyond, hunting the villain Borovsky (Kretschmann), “the most dangerous man I’ve ever met,” a villain with a grudge.
“I WILL have my REVENGE!” Like that needed saying.
There are drones, a double-decker London bus chase and occasional calls to “Cowboy up” from the American, meaning “Draw yer weapon, boy. The Russkies are pulling a fast one!”
Jacobi twinkles, Nielsen fixes one and all with a steely stare and Kretschmann, condemned to such roles by his German accent, always gives fair value.
It’s just all so played. Even the shootouts and chases feel like they’re unfolding at half-speed, at least partly because we’ve seen this gag before more times than we can recall.
They might have been better served making the whole enterprise more British (there’s no buddy chemistry between the leads) and letting the rest of the world realize that yes, the Americans have their SEALS, but we’ve got Special Forces, and this Special Boat Service thing.
But that would have relied even more upon Cooper, and he brings little of the spark he’s shown elsewhere to this tired, half-hearted genre flop.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, and language
Cast: Dominic /Cooper, Austin Stowell, Gemma Chan, Connie Nielsen, Thomas Kreutschman, Tom Felton, Derek Jacobi
Credits: Directed by Simon West, script by Warren Davis II and Duncan Falconer, based on his novel. An eOne release.
Running time: 1:35