Earlier in the evening when my girlfriend and I saw The 355, we attended a special Mass at The House of Prayer in Clearwater, Florida. Every first Friday, they host a night called Rekindle. In addition to Mass, there is Adoration and Reconciliation. That is a trifecta of Catholic goodness. Afterwards, we had some Chinese food goodness. The last item on the agenda for the night was the film. As we got out of the car, she grabbed a blanket in my backseat. Given everything we had done, my suspicions as to the quality of the movie we were about to see, and her theater habits, I predicted a nap for her. I was not completely wrong, at least not on all counts. While she did doze a bit, my guess as to the motion picture being a dud proved true.
The 355 introduces us to the McGuffin in the film right away. Why not, I guess. There is a device developed by a Columbian drug lord that is promptly stolen by criminal mastermind Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng). Or at least there is an attempted theft. At the same moment of the struggle for the computer drive, which can remotely access any computer system in the world, Columbian National Intelligence Directive (DNI) agents raid the compound. In the confusion, Agent Luis Rojas (Edgar Ramírez) absconds with the McGuffin. The situation comes to the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who discover the existence of this device and that it is in the possession of Agent Rojas. The CIA sends their own operative, Mason “Mace” Brown (Jessica Chastain), along with her close friend and fellow agent, Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan). They are posing as husband and wife, but Nick uses it to take his personal relationship with Mace to the next level. Their official plan is to make contact with Agent Rojas in Paris and make the switch. At the café where the exchange is to take place, the transaction is disrupted by yet another spy. This is German Bundensnachrichtendienst (BND) operative Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), and her country also wants the device. Mace takes off after Marie, while Nick chases Agent Rojas. As it turns out, Agent Rojas had not brought the drive with him to the meeting. Additionally, Marie and Agent Rojas get away, and Nick is found dead. Mace learns of this when she returns to Langley, and officially speaking she is taken her off the case. Her boss, Larry Marks (John Douglas Thomas), gives her tacit permission to go after those she believes responsible for Nick death and the McGuffin. Her first move is to recruit former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, commonly known as MI6) officer Khadijah Adiyeme (Lupita Nyong’o), somebody who specializes in cyber security. Together, they go back to Paris to try to re-establish contact with Agent Rojas. Since last we saw him, he is visited by DNI psychologist Graciela Rivera (Penélope Cruz), who tries to convince him to turn himself over to the Columbians. He does so, but at the arranged location they turn against him when Marie shows up at the meeting as well. Mace and Khadijah are aware of this location too, and are on hand to intervene as well. Khadijah stays with Graciela and Agent Rojas, the latter of which is shot dead, and Mace once more gives chase to Marie, who is after the person who gunned down Agent Rojas. The assassin escapes, and with the computer device. Hence, Mace and Marie put aside their differences, and along with Graciela and Khadijah, follow the current owner of the drive to Morocco. Together, they are able to re-obtain the McGuffin, and they hand it on to Mace’s boss, Larry. Thinking their job is done, they retire to a bar where they have some celebratory drinks, only to see a news story proclaiming a series of attacks that could only have happened as a result of using the device. Now we have yet another agent, this time from China and named Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan), and she takes the drive from Larry. Our intrepid four then head for the Far East where they infiltrate an auction where various criminals are surreptitiously bidding on the drive. This is not the only revelation. The person organizing the illicit side of the proceedings is the supposedly deceased Nick, and he is working for Elijah to get the drive. In yet another confusing action set piece, it is revealed that Lin Mi’s government is using the auction to draw out the organization behind the drive. They also manage to give Nick a fake. Yet, when this is revealed, Nick attacks Lin Mi’s safe house and steals back the real one. Thus, our five agents all agree to mount one last raid, though Lin Mi is taken by Nick to make sure he has the real McCoy. Anyway, bang bang, punch punch, kick kick, good women win and bad guys lose. Though Nick gets away and even gets promoted by the CIA, Mace and the others find him in his posh home and poison him, apparently at the order of the CIA. We end with our women each going their separate ways.
The worst problem with The 355 is that there is nothing original about it. I suppose one can make the case that it somewhat new since it features women as the lead instead of men. There are references to this fact when they talk about James Bond. Yet, the fact that they mention the godfather of spy films is part of the problem. I will applaud the producers for their diversity choices. Their innovation stopped with the cast. The plot is nothing you have not seen in any number of Bond flicks, or similar productions. There are threats of World War III, secret agents fighting each other, mustache twirling villains greedily seeking power, and high-tech devices. Is there anything missing?
Another standard of spy films that is addressed in The 355 is the life of being a secret agent. When our heroines are not fighting bad guys, they have moments when they muse about their work. There is a line as to why they do it, something to the effect that they do it so that others do not have to do so. As a Catholic film reviewer, I am always on the alert for moments that jive with my Faith. It sometimes makes complete debacles of cinematic productions into more palatable experiences. Sometimes. To be fair, this movie is not a complete debacle. However, its lack of originality also leads me to an unoriginal assessment of its Catholic-ness. I think it is great that these women see their role as doing a duty in place of others. Jesus took on the sins of the world, making a sacrifice once and for all. It works here, but it has also worked in other movies I covered. But, if it helps you get through a movie, then so much the better.
In talking about The 355, you have to also take into account the time during which it was released. I reminded of one of my favorite film review channels on YouTube: Red Letter Media. When discussing the reason why there never seems to be any good offerings in the first month of the year, their answer was simple: “f” you, it’s January. I am sure you can find plenty of good movies that have premiered in the weeks immediately following the new year. This is not one of them. If you have not seen any of the other better films that premiered during the holidays, go see them.