Principal Cast : Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Michael Nyqvist, Zane Holtz, Caroline Goodall, Alexander Diachenko, Ilia Volok, Michaeil Gorevoy, Igor Jijikine, Toby Stephens, Linda Cardellini, David Gyasi, Gabriel Chavarria.
Synopsis: An untested American submarine captain teams with U.S. Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general.
Hilariously stupid, Hunter Killer’s submarine-based thrills plumb the depths of audience’s willingness to engage in whatever career trajectory Gerard Butler seems intent on going for – be it a spate of horrifying romantic “comedies” or, in a sharp u-turn, cheesy action spectacles like Geostorm or this movie – and sadly, the thrills are few and far between. Butler’s gruff charisma makes for a perfect growling submarine captain, and the film’s plot is just tenable enough to work if you squint a bit, but saddling the likes of Gary Oldman (in full-throated shouty mode) and the late Michael Nyqvist (in one of his final roles, sadly) with such claptrap should be considered a crime against cinema.
On the bottom of the ocean floor, deep in Russian territory, a US submarine is attacked and sunk by a Russian vessel, sparking an possible international incident. Tasked with locating the sub, the USS Arkansas, commanded by ring-in Commander Joe Glass (Butler) engages in close-quarters underwater combat with another Russian sub, before it is destroyed. After rescuing another sub captain, Captain Sergei Andropov (Nyqvist – John Wick), Glass and his crew are startled to discover that a rogue Russian defence minister, Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy) has undertaken a coup, kidnapping the Russian President (Alexander Diachenko) in order to start a war with the United States. Meanwhile, above water, Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common – John Wick Chapter 2) and NSA analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini – Avengers: Age of Ultron) seek to stave off World War III and the hawkish behaviour of Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman – Leon: The Professional) by using a special operations force, led by Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens – The Machine) to save the Russian President and get him to safety aboard the Arkansas.
Hunter Killer is absolute poppycock. It’s a film of first-class convenience and contrivance, a thriller masquerading as a submarine action flick that’s about as intelligent as blue cheese and half as entertaining as that. If Down Persicope didn’t already exist as a shitty submarine comedy, you’d give this one the title of “worst submarine comedy.” This is a patently stupid movie, right up there with Butler’s other nonsense piece in Geostorm, although at least here there’s some tangible evidence of attempting to legitimise Butler’s growing B-list status in these direct-to-bargain-bin specials. The film’s premise is preposterous but retains that cheesy 80’s-era simplicity a la Chuck Norris’ Delta Force or Schwarzenegger’s Commando (without the bad puns), setting Butler’s square-jawed mumble-voiced Joe Glass (which is itself is a laughable name) on a collision course with hamfisted underwater tension and a barely competent Lone Survivor–esque secondary SEAL Team plot that never once makes use of Toby Stephens’ acting chops.
The plot, a loosely cobbled together collection of submarine movie tropes, woven into the inevitable threat of thermonuclear immolation and the onset of human extinction, is taken from a novel one suspects was written around a drunken beer party and is brought to life by the unsteady hand of director Donovan Marsh. Vague political manoeuvring between the US and Russia, intended to highlight flaws in the former Soviet nation’s security where a lone asshole can almost end the world is perhaps a touch too believable these days, the film’s screenplay by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss sensationalises the submariner genre and turns it into a low-level underwater Fast & Furious film. Surely these submarines handle like bricks, but in the cool, calm and collected hands of Butler’s Glass, the Arkansas is a veritable Lamborghini of the sea. If they ever made a porn version of this movie, it would be an all-gay one and feature a bunch of guys masturbating over sonar screens for an hour. Honestly, there’s only so much of this machismo-laden thing one can take seriously before you just have to laugh at it, it’s so silly.
Butler and Nyqvist spend a great deal of their time on-screen together just staring at each other, Nyqvist’s Russian commander character a single-dimensional character destitute of depth (ha, that’s a submarine joke) and Butler’s not much more either, although in fairness the filmmakers try and make him empathetic by giving him a nigh unspoken, only-hinted-at-in-a-single-line-of-dialogue tragic backstory. Yep, it’s that cheap. Neither Butler nor Nyqvist are the worse off, however; nope, that tragic paycheck role falls to the likes of rapper Common (who is fast becoming a halfway decent actor in his own right), Linda Cardellini and Gary Oldman, the latter of whom spends the film screaming at screens, berating the dundering officials around him and generally wanting to blast the shit out of anything he possibly can. Cardellini’s character might as well be a piece of plywood brought from the hardware store, her role is so inconsequential to the plot. This trio spend their time in the film in a control center ordering soldiers and mumbling about having to inform the President (who is a woman in this film, by the way, played by Caroline Goodall) about every moment that passes. Toby Stephens is absolutely awful as the SEAL team leader with balls bigger than his head, chewing his testosterone-dialogue and spitting it out all over his unfortunate co-stars, none of whom are memorable but all of whom serve a purpose, despite being as predictable as you’d imagine. If you imagine Hunter Killer as a bizarre comedy then Stephens’ role in it is a standout; otherwise, however, it’s egregious in its awfulness.
Look, if you copy and pasted half the plot points from Crimson Tide (the Executive Officer who questions every decision the sub commander makes), Das Boot (sonar pings, silent running, general underwater terror), U571 (questionable soldering and an aversion to the laws of both physics and history), or even The Hunt For Red October (a problem with Russians), you’ll have a fair degree of knowledge about where this film goes in its quest to entertain you. Hunter Killer’s mandate is to explode things as often and as loudly as possible, make a lot of men in a tin can very sweaty, and showcase the idea that a submarine movie doesn’t have to spend a lot on CG effects to work as a movie. Honestly, some of Hunter Killer’s sub effects look inordinately sub-par – in the chase for honesty, some of the film’s effects are surprisingly strong at times, though – and the locations used for the Russian infiltration sequence are actually quite beautiful. But it’s a jigsaw of seen-it-all-before and taking even Butler’s stoic, unruffled performance into account it’s the exact kind of film you’d expect from Arnie or Stallone thirty years ago.
That’s it! It’s an 80’s action flick made in the latter half of the 21st Century’s second decade. A film out of place: had Hunter Killer been made back in the day, we’d probably regard it as an absolute classic now for some reason. Sadly, it was made only recently and for that, and for wasting the majority of its eminently competent cast in such drivel, this is a film I wish would sink to the very bottom. If you’re up for some dumb stupidity, Hunter Killer will waste an hour or so, and you’ll get some so-bad-it’s-good guffaws. If you’re expecting something clever or believable in that Behind Enemy Lines kinda way (he he) then avoid Hunter Killer at all costs. Forgettable slop.