Movie Review: “Hunter Killer” revives the Cold War with unfortunate Trump Era twists

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“Hunter Killer” arrives in theaters as a Cold War revival submarine thriller about commandos and a US sub sent to rescue an embattled, coup-imprisoned Russian president.

Tell me you think that’s wonderful geopolitical timing. Take off your MAGA hat when you do, pal.

It was scripted a long time ago and filmed some time before Michael Nyvist (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) died, in June of 2017. But this disjointed actioner feels like the most unfortunate piece of pop art timing since Charles Lindbergh tried to get “Save the Next Dance for Me, Adolf” on the 1941 “Hit Parade.”

It’s a Gerard Butler combat pic, and while it isn’t on the level of his worst B-pics — Gary Oldman has won an Oscar since this was put in the can, and the effects are decent — it’s still a clumsy thriller weighed down by cliches, gigantic leaps of logic and ham-fisted “The Russians are Just Like Us” politics that only a tiny minority of Americans won’t find grating.

Butler is Captain Glass of the U.S.S. Arkansas. He’s on a rescue mission for a missing U.S. sub in the waters north of the Once and Future Soviet Empire. But once he’s on station, there’s “a shoot out under the ice.” His “Hunter Killer” (non ballistic missile) sub has to fight its way out of a jam. The Russians want World War III?

So it almost seems. Because their president (Alexander Diachenko, handsome and bland) has been taken hostage, labeled “weak” by his bellicose defense minister (Michael Gor).

The Navy brass (Common) and intelligence expert (Linda Cardellini) see what’s happening. They’ve got to prevent the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Oldman) from pressing Madame President (Talk about alternate reality.) from escalating things into a war.

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And as they already have commandos on the ground and a sub within reach, why not rescue the Russian Not Named Putin?

“We’re goin’ in t’get four of our boys, and one Russian president,” Captain Glass growls.

Toby Stephens of Netflix’s “Lost in Space” is the tough-as-nails commando leader, Carter MacIntyre the sub’s highly-strung XO (executive officer), the one who shrieks at his commander every time Glass goes rogue, beyond orders, what have you.

And the late Nyqvist, who rarely had a Hollywood film worthy of his talent and stature in his native Sweden, is a Russian sub commander.

The digital sub-fights are quite good, with surface ships and some apparent Navy cooperation. The best moments in the movie are little slices of damage control response teams, stanching flooding, putting out fires, etc.

The commando scenes, which are like their own movie (with painfully under-developed characters, “types” really) are generic paint-by-number bits. Love the way they swim in fjords above the Arctic Circle as if it’s Fleet Week in Key West.

It’s entirely too dramatically thin and lacking in real suspense to stand among the great or even middling submarine movies. It’s “Red October Lite,” with lots of Tom Clancy gadgetry and Cold War politics that Clancy would recognize as well.

Even though Helsinki makes the idea of an American rescue of a Russian president more plausible than a say, having a woman in the White House, “Hunter Killer” isn’t remotely good enough to make you forget the America it’s being released in, which is the whole point of an action movie — escape.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language

Cast: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini, Michael Nyqvist

Credits:Directed by Donovan Marsh, script by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss, based on a novel by Don Keith and George Wallace. A Summit release.

Running time: 2:02

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