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Dominic Cooper flexes his action-hero muscles as a globe-trotting troubleshooter in Stratton. Hired as a last-minute replacement for Henry Cavill shortly before shooting began, the Preacher star does a serviceable job as the eponymous hotshot commando with the Special Boat Service, Britain’s equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEALs. But he is mostly firing blanks, thanks to a creaky script and dim-witted plot. Screenwriter Duncan Falconer, himself a former SBS officer, adapted this fast-paced Euro thriller from his own novels. Director Simon West aims for a kind of Jason Bourne or Mission: Impossible feel, but he falls short in budget, star power and explosive spectacle.
On paper, West seems to be having a bumper comeback year. Stratton opens in U.K. theaters tomorrow, just a week before the U.S launch of his Antonio Banderas-starring action comedy, Gun Shy. But the director’s stock has clearly fallen steeply since his early blockbuster success with Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This formulaic spy yarn will likely generate modest business among Cooper’s fan base and undemanding action buffs, but it feels perilously close to the sort of undignified paycheck project that would typically star Steven Seagal and be shot in Bulgaria.
Stratton opens with a covert raid on an Iranian chemical-weapons facility, which climaxes in a breakneck car chase and lethal gunfight. Cooper’s boringly unflappable, super-competent hero, John Stratton, escapes the ambush alive, but his CIA comrade dies, leading to recriminations and soul-searching back at SBS headquarters in London. Despite taking the political flak, Stratton’s glamorous ice-queen boss Sumner (Connie Nielsen) is broadly sympathetic. Or possibly angry. Or maybe suffering from acute constipation. It is hard to tell, since Nielsen (Wonder Woman, The Good Wife) delivers her lines as if she has only just learned English and memorized every word phonetically.
Looking more like catwalk models than elite military spooks, Stratton and his implausibly young, good-looking, multiracial team regroup with a new CIA partner, Marty (Tyler Hoechlin), and redouble their efforts to hunt down the mastermind behind the chemical-weapons plot, rogue Russian FSB agent Grigory Barovsky (Thomas Kretschmann). Known to be planning a major bio-terror attack, Barovsky leaves a trail of havoc behind him as he evades capture in Rome. In fairness, his escape is made easier by the obligatory double agent inside the SBS, whose duplicity is clumsily telegraphed early on, plus some of the most glaringly obvious hidden-camera bugs ever seen in an espionage thriller.
From its chest-thumping score to its oddly lame climax — a contrived race against time involving a double-decker London bus — Stratton offers little but dusty old thriller cliches borrowed from better films. Cooper brings obvious eye-candy appeal and looks convincing enough with a high-powered rifle in his hand. But not even his best sexy-dangerous scowl can entirely mask his embarrassment at the kind of dismal script in which thickly accented villains tell clean-cut heroes: “I’m no different than you, I just don’t pretend it’s for a good cause.” Groan. The odds of Stratton expanding into a Bourne-sized franchise are not looking good.
Production companies: Atomic Arts, GFM Films, SquareOne Entertainment, Stratton Film Productions, Twickenham Studios
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Tyler Hoechlin, Connie Nielsen, Gemma Chan, Thomas Kretschmann, Tom Felton, Austin Stowell, Derek Jacobi
Director: Simon West
Screenwriters: Duncan Falconer, Warren Davis II
Producers: Guy Collins, Matthew Jenkins
Executive producers: Julian Friedmann, Fred Hedman, Jib Polhemus, Michael Ryan
Cinematographer: Felix Wiedemann
Production designer: Jonathan Lee
Costume designer: Stephanie Collie
Editor: Andrew MacRitchie
Music: Nathaniel Mechaly
Casting director: Debbie McWilliams
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