When we last encountered Gerard Butler, in the semi-enjoyably derivative Den of Thieves, he was rerunning Al Pacino’s old Heat movies. Tonight, Matthew, cinema’s loudest Scotsman will be impersonating The Hunt for Red October-era Alec Baldwin.
Swerving any lawsuit that might have followed from calling his character, say, Jack Bryan, Butler’s maverick sub commander has been assigned the no less no-nonsense name of Joe Glass. Joe has an intense rep. “He never went to Annapolis!” a Pentagon functionary gasps. “I heard he once punched his CO,” gossips a passing seaman.
Glass is first seen tracking elk with manly bow and arrow; you’re surprised the filmmakers didn’t go the whole alpha hog and have a shirtless Butler best the poor creatures in an arm wrestle.
Yet, as with much else in this muddled, disjointed non-thriller, that intro proves misleading. Glass actually turns out to be a thinker and boat lover — two parts Cousteau, one-part Poirot — who finds himself plunged into choppy diplomatic waters while investigating the simultaneous torpedoing of US and Russian subs. Could it be the Russians themselves, as represented by noble seadog Captain Andropov (the late Michael Nyqvist)? Or might it relate to Berocca-swilling chief of staff Gary Oldman, who bellows something gruff about chess to his (female) president, then goes suspiciously quiet for an hour? Don’t invest too much: for all the military hardware, this long, loud game of Battleships will result in a terrible fudge.
Butler’s convoluted claptrap phase remains preferable to his louche bachelor period, yet at two hours, Hunter Killer is carrying a lot of undue timber, not least a very boring, Michael Bay B-plot involving a squadron of marines doing the on-the-ground chestbeating the star usually does. Elsewhere, indifferent cutting only heightens the weird artificiality of the sub scenes: the off-kilter footage of Cap’n Gerry sternly relaying orders seems to bear scant relation to the model shots of metallic phalluses running silent and deep through the studio fish tank.
Toning down his usual act in a manner that suggests he’s finally read his reviews, Butler gives it handfuls of dramatic ballast, but this vessel has been badly compromised: any interest seeps out by the frame.
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Hunter Killer releases in the UAE on October 25.