The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Hunter Killer

In the 1987 John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Neal Page (played by Steve Martin) makes a difficult cross-country trek with John Candy's Del Griffith, an obnoxious and annoying shower curtain ring salesman. After reaching peak frustration with his traveling companion, Neal loses it, saying, "I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days, I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. They'd say, 'How can you stand it?' I'd say, 'Because I've been with Del Griffith. I can take anything!'"

Why bring this 31-year-old movie up now? Because I've seen Hunter Killer. I can take anything!

When two submarines -- one Russian, the other American -- are sunk, someone needs to take a third down to investigate. Gerard Butler plays a real stock character, the Only Man Who Can Do It. Yes, submarine captain Joe Glass is the non-traditional maverick who gets called in because, apparently, there's no one else crazy enough to do what's needed. He's virtually the exact same character Butler played in Geostorm.

It is soon revealed that a rogue general has kidnapped the Russian president, and the sub sinkings have something to do with that. Back above the water, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gary Oldman), a military leader (Common), and an NSA operative (Linda Cardellini) monitor what Joe and his crew are doing. In an odd turn of events, these characters seem as though they're going to be important in Hunter Killer's early scenes, only to disappear for the better part of an hour.

If you've ever browsed through the menu of your preferred VOD platform, you may have noticed a lot of the movies are kind of similar. They're action movies, obviously made on the cheap, with low-grade CGI and plots that are strangely thin, almost as if cranked out on an assembly line. Many of them lately star Bruce Willis, John Cusack, or Nicholas Cage. Hunter Killer is like one of those films. Seeing it on the big screen is an odd experience, because nothing about it seems designed to be theatrical. In every way, it looks and feels like something slapped together for VOD in the hopes that viewers with a fetish for military equipment will drop six bucks to rent it.

The characters are one-dimensional stereotypes, the visual effects are unimpressive, and the storytelling is sloppy, utilizing an endless array of generic conflicts and generic plot points. Director Donovan Marsh doesn't display an ability to generate suspense, instead giving us random chaos and dull shots of submarines gliding through the water that do nothing to build tension. It should be noted that the subs sometimes do things that defy the laws of physics, which further undercuts any potential thrills the movie might have delivered.

There's only so much you can do in a submarine-based action movie, and Hunter Killer does all of it. The sub tries to out-maneuver missiles. It takes on water at one point. There's a fire inside. We've seen it all before. There's action on land, too, in a subplot involving a group of Navy SEALs who are also part of the mission. Here again, all the film gives is your standard gunplay, plus two big explosions. Creativity is sorely lacking in this paint-by-numbers production.

"Lazy" would probably be the best adjective to describe Hunter Killer. Not even the performances have much spark. By refusing to provide viewers with anything original -- and by staging the overly-familiar elements in a routine manner -- the film quickly becomes an exercise in tedium that practically dares you to keep paying attention.

( out of four)

Hunter Killer is rated R for violence and some language. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.

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