Think of every military action movie cliche you can. The maverick hero who’s just an average guy. The uptight rule-following second-in-command who learns a good lesson. Enemies who aren’t so different after all. So many of these hackneyed stereotypes are thrown at the Gerard Butler-starring Navy thriller “Hunter Killer,” you have to wonder if this is the “Scary Movie” of submarine movies.
Directed by Donovan Marsh, “Hunter Killer” is just this side of a parody. There’s fun to be had with formula, and if you aren’t taking it all too seriously, the film is a hoot, even if that’s not what the filmmakers were going for.
Based on the novel “Firing Point,” the plot concerns an underwater dogfight in the Barents Sea that’s keeping World War 3 at bay, while on the surface, a coup d’etat is unfolding at the Polyarny base in Russia.
When the USS Tampa Bay goes down with 110 sailors, the target of a Russian torpedo, Capt. Joe Glass (Butler) is yanked out of the Scottish highlands, where he’s bow hunting moose (naturally). He’s plopped at the helm of a “hunter killer” sub, the USS Arkansas, to figure out just what is going on in Kola Bay.
If there’s a playbook, no one’s following it. Glass, a cool captain, asks his executive officer (Carter MacIntyre), “Would you rather be right or be alive?” as he goes rogue, picking up a few Russian sailors from their sunken sub and piloting the Arkansas into a treacherous fjord littered with mines and sensors with the help of Russian captain Andropov (Michael Nyqvist).
In “Hunter Killer,” everyone’s going rogue, including the Russian defense minister Durov (Michael Gor), who usurps the handsome but dumb Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), not to mention the U.S. Department of Defense and the NSA, headed up by Rear Admiral Fisk (Common) and Jayne Nordquist (Linda Cardellini) respectively. They cook up a harebrained scheme for a special forces unit to extract Zakarin and get him on the sub.
Marsh and cinematographer Tom Marais do shoot the movie with dynamism. Below the surface, details feel real, even if ripped from “The Hunt for Red October,” but on land, everything is enhanced with too much CGI.
While ‘Hunter Killer” bounces between serious and silly, it never quite finds a suitable place to land.
— Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
Starring: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini, Michael Nyqvist, Michael Gor
Written by: Arne L. Schmidt, Jamie Moss
Directed by: Donovan Marsh
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute