Movie Review: A great cast and clever conceit are wasted in “The 355”

On paper, “The 355” looked a lot better than it turned out. A glossy, fast-moving and violent B-movie, an espionage thriller built around five acclaimed actresses — two of them Oscar winners, another a two-time nominee — this could have been an action romp that decorated every resume in the lot.

But good stunts and the always-cool 360 degree pans of our five furies in action can’t cover for a clumsy, contrivance-filled script and listless direction from the guy (Simon Kinberg) who killed the X-Men franchise. It starts with promise, hits the wall at the one-hour mark and nonsensically goes on and on after its climax.

Jessica Chastain stars as “Mace,” a CIA operative who loses a bag of cash, the device she was supposed to buy, and a partner “with benefits” (Sebastian Stan) in a hand-off followed by a chase and melee in Paris.

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o is Khadija, an MI6 technological threats expert who used to be a field agent, summoned to give a little off-the-books help to her pal Mace in retrieving a “drive” that is the ultimate hack — from power grids to jetliner, finance and military systems, it’s a classic “They get this thing, they start World War III” movie MacGuffin.

These two, joined by other women somehow mixed-up in this gadget and the hunt for it, spend the entire film getting and losing the cell-phone shaped device. Diane Kruger trots out her action chops and multi-lingual profanity as the German agent Marie, and Oscar-winner Penélope Cruz plays a Colombian secret police shrink named Graciela lassoed in because of the operative (Edgar Ramirez) who first grabs the drive from a drug lord who figures to sell it to the highest bidder.

And Bingbing Fan makes an appearance as the obligatory kickass Chinese presence in the chase, which climaxes in Shanghai.

Veteran screenwriter Theresa Rebeck, whose credits date back to TV’s “LA Law” and “NYPD Blue,” director and co-writer Kinberg (“Ex-Men: Dark Phoenix”) and Bek Smith (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”) reduce the assorted characters into “types” — Chastain as the chilly, two-fisted professional, Kruger as “the most screwed-up” of the lot, Fan as the martial artist, Nyong’o as the tough-broad peacemaker among the warring factions and Cruz as the “normal person” who cries that “I am not MADE for this.”

The actors, as well as they handle the shoot-outs and fight choreography, never overcome this pigeonholing. The odd bit of “I need to call home” suggestion of a love life/home life, which raises the stakes, doesn’t make the characters any less predictable than the plot, whose only surprises are the eye-rolling detours it takes from what’s logical.

The picture stops sprinting and begins to lurch, with scenes and twists that make no sense and even the title’s explanation — they take their name as a “team” from the code-number of a female spy in George Washington’s employ — slapped on as an addendum.

“January release” or not, it’s still a shame that all this talent, an epic fight in a fish market and some cool shootouts and chases were wasted this way.

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material.

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, Bingbing Fan, Edgar Ramirez and Sebastian Stan.

Directed by Simon Kinberg, scripted by Theresa Rebeck, Bek Smith and Simon Kinberg. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:04

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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