HUNTER KILLER

Producer: Neal H. Moritz, Toby Jaffe, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Tucker Tooley, Mark Gill, John Thompson, Matt O'Toole and Les Weldon
Director: Donovan Marsh
Writer: Arnie L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss
Stars: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Michael Nyqvist, Linda Cardellini, Toby Stephens, Zane Holtz, Carter MacIntyre, Caroline Goodall, Alexander Diachenko, Mikhail Gorevoy and Yuri Kolokolnikov
Studio: Summit Entertainment

D

All of Gerard Butler’s recent action vehicles—“Olympus Has Fallen,” “London Has Fallen,” “Geostorm”—have been ridiculous, but “Hunter Killer” might very well take the brass ring for absurdity. Set in an alternate reality where the president of the United States is a woman—it was obviously shot when it was assumed Hillary Clinton would win—and her Russian counterpart is a Gorbachev-like peacenik considered weak by his underlings, it resembles nothing more than a Cold War submarine melodrama uneasily transposed to the contemporary world.

Butler plays Joe Glass, captain of the USS Arkansas, a nuclear sub called into action after two other subs—one Russian, the other American—are sunk under the arctic ice. The twin disaster is somehow related to a coup attempt—Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) is taken captive by Admiral Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy), his hard-line Defense Minister, at a fortress-like naval base—though precisely how is never really explained.

American president Ilene Dover (Caroline Goodall), prodded by her dyspeptic Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Donnegan (Gary Oldman, in full wild-man mode), puts US forces on alert when the US sub goes down, but also agrees to a suggestion by Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) that Glass, newly assigned to the Arkansas, should look into what’s happening. Glass, an unconventional commander who’s risen through the ranks rather than being an Annapolis man, destroys another sub that attacks his ship but then endangers his own vessel to rescue survivors from the first sunken Russian sub, including its captain Sergei Andropov (Michael Nyqvist), whom he informs that his ship was the victim of sabotage, not a torpedo.

Fisk, working clandestinely with sharp NSA official Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini), has also ordered a team of Navy SEALS led by gruff veteran Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens) to infiltrate and reconnoiter the Russian base to provide direct evidence of what is going on. (The entire section of the movie dealing with them is as conventionally gung-ho—and incredibly boring—as you can imagine.) They prove that Zakarin has been seized by Durov, who is planning to use the events to prompt a direct confrontation with the US, and at Norquist’s suggestion a decision is taken to have Beaman’s team free the captive Zakarin and deliver him to the Arkansas for safe conduct beyond Durov’s control.

Fortunately Andropov, now convinced of Durov’s perfidy, not only helps Glass maneuver the Arkansas deep into the Russian base but proves instrumental in preventing the American vessel from being eliminated by a Russian destroyer ordered by Durov to—well—destroy it. The employment of a bunch of ordinary Russian seamen, nodding like an assortment of bobble-head dolls, as ordinary-folk heroes at the close is somehow appropriate, reemphasizing the nonsensicality of the picture’s ending.

Glass doesn’t save the situation singlehandedly, in the way that Butler’s secret service agent Mike Banning did in “Olympus” and “London” and his satellite genius Jake Lawson did in “Geostorm,” but he’s still portrayed as a singularly brilliant fellow whose intuitions always prove right. To italicize that, he’s provided with Annapolis-educated Executive Officer Brian Edwards (Carter MacIntyre), a fresh-faced zealot who bristles at his commander’s unorthodox approach and habit of dismissing orders to go his own way, but in the end must gaze in amazement at how well he’s pulled it all off. You half-expect him to put his boss up for canonization.

Every aspect of the script of “Hunter Killer,” written in the spirit of a juvenile potboiler by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss, is ludicrous, from the basic premise to the individual episodes and each and every line of cliché-ridden dialogue, and Donovan Marsh directs in the same spirit. The level of characterization—from Butler’s stone-faced Glass, MacIntyre’s flummoxed Edwards and Stephens’ rasping Beaman to Oldman’s exasperated Donnegan, Gorevoy’s snide Durov and Zane Holtz’s boyish but unstoppable SEAL—lacks any depth, and the actors all respond accordingly. The only cast members who emerge unscathed are Common, who underplays so abjectly that his presence barely registers, and Nyqvist, whose somber, nearly silent performance brings some real gravity to his scenes. It’s sad to think that this will probably be that fine actor’s screen swan song.

Though there’s always room for a good submarine movie, this silly one, with its comic book plot and cardboard characters, sinks like a stone.