'Hunter Killer': Film Review

Sinks to the bottom.

Gerard Butler plays the commander of a U.S. submarine attempting to rescue a Russian president in this military thriller also featuring Gary Oldman and Common.

The new film starring Gerard Butler features a female American president, a moderate Russian president and American and Russian military officers working together to prevent a war. So when it hits the streaming market you should probably look for Hunter Killer in the fantasy section. But that's not the only problem. When the coolest thing about a submarine thriller is the sight of the officers stiffly leaning forward as their vessel goes into a deep dive, you know there's a problem.   

Although clearly hoping to duplicate the critical and commercial success of such predecessors as The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide (forget about Das Boot, which is in a class by itself), this by-the-numbers military thriller chugs along like a submarine with a disabled engine. It runs a little longer than two hours, but feels more like two tours of duty. And it has enough plot elements to fuel an armful of Tom Clancy novels, but somehow manages to make none of them interesting.

Butler, tamping down his natural charisma to more appropriately portray a serious-minded military man, plays the lead role of Joe Glass (even the character's name is boring), who is assigned to command the titular submarine after both a Russian and American sub are sunk under mysterious circumstances in the Arctic Ocean. His getting the job is surprising because, as a colleague points out ominously, "He never went to Annapolis."

It's soon revealed that the Russian sub was the victim of sabotage and that a coup is in the works. A fanatical defense minister (Mikhail Gorevoy) has taken the Russian president (Alexander Dyachenko) prisoner and is determined to start World War III. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the gung-ho Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gary Oldman) urges the madam president (Caroline Goodall, bearing a marked resemblance to you know who) to use military force, using a chess analogy to make his point.

Rear admiral John Fisk (Common, who seems as surprised to be playing a military man as we are to see him as one) has a different idea. Having apparently seen Gerard Butler rescue the U.S. president in Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, he suggests that they enlist him to perform a similar duty with the Russian leader. His plan is eagerly supported by an NSA operative (Linda Cardellini) who seems as much of a peacenik as him.

So it's up to Glass to save the day, with the assistance of a group of black-op commandos (their leader played by British actor Toby Stephens in uncommonly macho mode) and a rescued Russian sub commander (the late Michael Nyqvist, in his final screen role and to whom the film is partially dedicated).

The action shifts between the undersea maneuvers, which mostly resemble a game of Battleship; the on-land guerrilla warfare, which has the feel of a basic cable action series; and the infighting in the American war room that provides the opportunity for the actors to exchange lots of worried glances.

What attracted the fine cast to the material (other than paychecks, of course) is anybody's guess. While by this point no one expects Butler to be a good judge of starring vehicles (Geostorm, really?), it's particularly distressing to see Oldman reduced to gamely going through the motions in his first major role since his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour.

Despite the fact that his previous credits, including Spud and Spud 2: The Madness Continues, wouldn't seem optimum preparation for an assignment such as this one, director Donovan Marsh creates an admirably realistic submarine environment. And the underwater action scenes, although inevitably murky and slowly paced, are competently executed. But the tension never ratchets up despite the high stakes, and the cliche-ridden dialogue wouldn't feel out of place coming from adolescents playing submarine games in their basement.

Production: Hunter Killer Productions, G-BASE, Hishow Entertainment, Millennium Films, Original Film, Tucker Tooley Entertainment
Distributor: Summit Premiere
Cast: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Michael Nyqvist, Linda Cardellini, Zane Holtz, Caroline Goodall, Alexander Dyachenko, Mikhail Gorevoy, Yuri Kolokolnikov
Director: Donovan Marsh
Screenwriters: Arne L. Schmidt
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Toby Jaffe, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Tucker Tooley, Mark Gill, John Thompson, Matt O'Toole, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Yariv Lerner, Douglas Urbanski, Lati Grogman, Christa Campbell, Arne L. Schmidt, Ryan Kavanaugh, Ken Halsband, Kevin King, Chrstine Otal
Director of photography: Tom Marais
Production designers: Jon Henson, James H. Spencer
Editor: Michael J. Duthie
Composer: Trevor Morris
Costume designer: Caroline Harris
Casting: Pam Dixon, Elaine Grainger, Anne McCarthy, Kelli Roy, Marianne Stanicheva

Rated R, 121 minutes