The Fleet Girls with Guns movie, “The 355,” takes its title from the codename given to a woman who spied for George Washington. This world-hop action movie, directed by Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Dark Phoenix”), who co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck, features a handful of female spies, along with numerous betrayals, betrayals, and fortunes changes, along with with several exciting action pieces. It’s pure catnip for fans of the beautiful woman genre who fight bad guys with poise. Watch “Ocean’s Eight”, “Charlie’s Angels” and any of Charlize Theron’s many action movies, for example “Atomic Blonde” or “The Old Guard”.
The story of the movie is ridiculously simple. A data key that can access anything on the Internet – it can cause planes to crash or, say, take out the entire electrical grid in Bogotá – ends up in the hands of Luis Rojas (Édgar Ramirez). He may be procuring it to Elijah Clarke (Jason Flemyng), an international terror financier with dire plans. However, CIA agents Mason “Mace” Browne (Jessica Chastain) and Nick (Sebastian Stan) meet Luis in Paris, where they hope to retrieve the dangerous device. Sadly, things go sideways when German agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger) intercepts and begins the first of many exciting chase scenes featuring gunfights.
Without revealing what happens, Mace leaves for England to reconnect with Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), a cyber intelligence agent and former MI6 agent who has left the field. Of course, Mace will make Khadijah leave her dreamy boyfriend Abdel (Raphael Acloque) and help her. And at the end of the following sequence of action, the two women meet Marie and Graciela (Penélope Cruz), a psychologist. They eventually join forces, instead of continuing to ruin each other’s operations. Then it goes to Marrakech for another action / chase / fight scene. Take a step and repeat.
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“The 355” is mindless fun as these women who take no prisoners act tough and fight tough. A funny scene has the teammates bonding over beers and swapping stories about their “first murder” while Graciela, a naive stranger to all of this derring-do, watches in awe.
Stunts are usually impressive. Mace shoots a motorcycle causing the driver to fall down the stairs of the Paris Metro, or jump between shipping containers, in pursuit of the device. Chastain is a fearless protagonist, and her moxie is attractive, even if her dialogue is horrible. Kruger also proves to be a force to be reckoned with, and his character has a backstory involving his father, who was also a spy. (Marion Cotillard was originally scheduled for Marie when the film was announced at Cannes in 2018). But the real secret weapon here is Lupita Nyong’o’s Khadijah, who is smart, clever, and often wildly funny. The sight of Nyong’o shooting everyone in her path in one scene is very nice. (The film, which is rated PG-13, is mostly bloodless.)
Around the midpoint, the data key ends up at an auction in Shanghai, where Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing) enters the picture. Her role, which includes making the film attractive to the Chinese market (though the actress was arrested for tax evasion that jeopardized her involvement), becomes clear as the auction scene unfolds. Apparently Elijah Clarke has sent a proxy to bid for the device using the dark web.
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The auction sequence allows women to dress up in fabulous clothes and stylish jewelry, which function as communication devices, naturally. And “355” requires spies to use their feminine wiles on unsuspecting men to obtain information. While it is unlikely that Penelope Cruz does not know how to flirt, as Graciela claims, it is delicious when she does. (See how that cocktail straw works.) Of course, things don’t go according to plan, but the entertainment value here is watching the characters navigate every obstacle they encounter.
“The 355” is not a deep or political film, but it does always highlight how women do the work and men get the recognition. Furthermore, this team of female spies “put herself in danger so others weren’t,” which is commendable. And while Mace and Marie play the macho game of overcoming, these enemy friends respect each other. (In contrast, Khadijah really seems to prefer to be out of the spy game, and Graciela is just sticking her finger in spying because of the circumstances.) Girl power messages are welcome even if they’re awkward. It’s certainly no wonder that men are no match for them.
As the film progresses towards its literally explosive ending, there are no unexpected plot twists and a few predictable moments, especially in the coda. But “The 355” is left open for a sequel for these women to come back and kick some ass again.
“The 355” will hit theaters on January 7. Watch a trailer below, via YouTube.
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