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In Theaters: HUNTER KILLER (2018)

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HUNTER KILLER
(US - 2018)

Directed by Donovan Marsh. Written by Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss. Cast: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Toby Stephens, Michael Nyqvist, Linda Cardellini, Caroline Goodall, David Gyasi, Alexander Diachenko, Michael Gor, Carter MacIntyre, Zane Holtz, Igor Jijikine, Michael Trucco, Ilia Volok, Ryan McPartlin, Gabriel Chavarria, Adam James, Colin Stinton, Taylor John Smith. (R, 122 mins)

A throwback to the prime of Tom Clancy geopolitics at the winding down of the Cold War, the relatively serious submarine thriller HUNTER KILLER isn't nearly as stupidly goofy as star Gerard Butler's earlier 2018 release DEN OF THIEVES, aka DIPSHIT HEAT (© David James Keaton). HUNTER KILLER is less DIPSHIT RED OCTOBER and more in line with Butler's (BLANK) HAS FALLEN series, though the star plays it completely straight here and never resorts to telling anyone to "Go back to Fuckheadistan." When the American sub USS Tampa Bay ventures into Russian waters and is sunk by an undetected Russian sub, Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Donnegan (a bloviating Gary Oldman, who looks like he went to Rand Paul's barber) asks Rear Adm. Fisk (Common) who he's got. The answer: no-nonsense Commander Joe Glass (Butler), a Navy outsider who does things his way and who "never went to Annapolis." Glass runs a tight ship and is put in charge of the USS Arkansas, currently off the coast of Scotland, and ordered to the location of the Tampa Bay sinking to see what happened. Meanwhile, Fisk and NSA analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini as Bridget Moynahan), against the wishes of war-gunning Donnegan, get authorization from the President (Caroline Goodall, whose casting takes us way back to the age of innocence that was the summer of 2016, when HUNTER KILLER was shot and it was a certainty that the next US president would be a woman) to send in a black-ops SEAL team led by Beaman (Toby Stephens) to monitor activity at a nearby Russian military base where a live drone feed has confirmed the presence of Russian president Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko). Donnegan is convinced Zakarin is declaring war on the US, but the culprit is his rogue defense minister Durov (Michael Gor), who's orchestrated a coup and intends to take over Russia and make America look like the aggressor.








After blowing up the Russian sub that took out the Tampa Bay, Glass goes rogue himself when the Arkansas discovers the wreckage of a Russian sub as well, with visual evidence that it exploded from the inside. They manage to rescue a handful of survivors, including its commander, Andropov (the late Michael Nyqvist), and secures him as an unlikely ally once he shows him that his sub was sabotaged from within. Glass needs Andropov to guide him through mined waters surrounding the Russian military base, where Beaman and his three-man team have been ordered to extract Zakarin and get him aboard the Arkansas before Durov has him executed and the rest of the world thinks the US started a war with Russia.


Butler with Michael Nyqvist (1960-2017)
Except for a few dodgy greenscreen shots above water, HUNTER KILLER is surprisingly good-looking for a film produced by Cannon cover band Millennium and partially shot at their Bulgarian stomping grounds at Sofia's Nu Boyana Studios (some of it was also shot at the more upscale Pinewood Studios in the UK). There's a few dubious-looking CGI explosions, but some look quite believable, and are indicative of Millennium's Bulgarian clown crew at Worldwide FX bringing their A-/B+ game. Things get refreshingly old-school with the use of sub models for the underwater shots, which are usually used fleetingly enough that the facade usually isn't broken, and when it is, it still looks better than a shoddy CGI effect. The plot is pure "America! Fuck Yeah!" hokum, but it's admirably restrained for this sort of thing, especially with its depiction of the mutual respect shown by Glass and Andropov. These two seen-it-all Navy heroes ("This is who we are...this is what we do!" Glass says at one point, because of course he does) are played with an initial mistrust and eventual warm rapport by both Butler (one of 29 credited producers) and the much-missed Swedish character actor Nyqvist (star of the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and memorable as the mob boss in JOHN WICK), who succumbed to lung cancer in June 2017 and looks gaunt and visibly ill in most of his scenes. The film is dedicated to both Nyqvist and co-producer John Thompson--a Millennium exec from the early NuImage days and the guy who ran Cannon's Italian branch in the mid '80s--who died in January 2018.


Other than Stephens, who seems to be rehashing a fictionalized version of the real-life SEAL he played in Michael Bay's 13 HOURS, none of the other big names get much of a chance to make an impression. Cardellini stares at a row of monitors in a Bourne-like command center and sees a live shot of Zakarin and wonders aloud, "What are you up to?" Common has little to do aside from looking concerned while getting chewed out by a ranting, overacting Oldman, who probably didn't spend more than a few days on the set for a glorified cameo prior to his Oscar-winning turn in DARKEST HOUR. Directed in a workmanlike fashion by South African journeyman Donovan Marsh, HUNTER KILLER is a fairly solid and undemanding nautical actioner, the kind of harmlessly watchable popcorn movie you'll probably end up stopping on and staying with to the end when you stumble upon it on cable from now until the end of time.


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