Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Michael Nyqvist, Common
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How this film got a theatrical release at all is quite astounding, given the unashamed levels of direct-to-DVD-bargain-bin filmmaking that’s on display here.
The B-movie is far from dead, even in a day and age where the phrase “direct-to-video” has lost all tangible meaning. While actors like Liam Neeson and Jason Statham still have the biggest prominence as B-movie action legends, Gerard Butler isn’t far behind. Between Olympus Has Fallen (and its rather garbage-trash sequel London Has Fallen), Geostorm and even Den Of Thieves from earlier this year, he is quickly becoming a go-to for whatever flavour of boilerplate action thrills are on the docket. That trend stays true here with Donovan Marsh’s Hunter Killer… although, after seeing it, you’ll wonder why Butler didn’t just take the day off instead.
This whole production has ‘stunt casting’ written all over it, considering the most recognisable faces here from Butler to Gary Oldman to the late Michael Nyqvist get a fraction of the screen time of the supporting cast. And boy, is there a lot of supporting actors here, from the crew of the titular submarine to the team of Navy SEALs that have to drop down into Russia for recon and then eventually a rather tepid rescue mission. It’s a serious case of too many actors, not enough characters as everyone here seems to exist solely in terms of narrative function. Hell, the only character name that resonates is Butler as Joe Glass, and that’s only because it’s such a stock action hero name that it’s quite laughable.
Then again, with production values this limp, it’s doubtful whether even Drew Goddard-level characterisation could have saved this sinker.
Whatever “action” there is to speak of largely consists of characters shouting commands at each other, with a few sparse shoot-outs that feel like mild heartbeats on someone who is clearly about to flatline.
The physical sets themselves look decent enough, like the electronically claustrophobic look of the USS Arkansas that a lot of the film is set on, but when put next to the sub-par CGI work and the eye-wateringly bad green-screening, it feels feeble.
And as for the story, considering this brand of espionage-tinged submarine caper is a well-ingrained piece of action-thriller set-up, this is way too bland for its own good. It lacks the nail-biting tension of a Hunt For Red October or the intertwining moments of sheer panic and potentially-lethal lack of communication of a Crimson Tide. Instead, it’s painfully by-the-numbers and only provides a scant handful of moments that could actually give a few jolts to the system, one of which involves someone accidentally dropping a wrench. Kind of worrying when that moment is one of the most exhilarating to be found in this 2-hour trudge.
How this film got a theatrical release at all is quite astounding, given the unashamed levels of direct-to-DVD-bargain-bin filmmaking that’s on display here. It’s only interesting when taken in context to modern relations between the U.S. and Russia, and even then, a story about Americans risking their lives to save the Russian president isn’t exactly reading the room correctly.