The best thing I can say about HUNTER KILLER is that is it forgettable. This putative thriller of geopolitics and military bonding blows things up, sinks submarines, parachutes stoic guys through a thunderstorm, and fires endless automatic weapons, but when it’s all over, not much sticks beyond a nicely timed wrench catch, and the fortuitous coincidences with which the plot is all too rife.
Gerard Butler stars at Joe Glass, the kind of sensitive bow hunter who gives wildlife a pass if it’s in a committed relationship. He’s also the new commander of the USS Arkansas, a hunter-killer class of submarine. Glass didn’t go to Annapolis, which gives the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gary Oldman) pause, but with the recent sinking of another American sub right after a Russian sub in the area goes down, he has no choice but to put Glass in charge. It’s that kind of story. The kind where the Navy has exactly one available officer to skipper a sub, and that sub is about to go on a mission that will lead the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Now, as I have said before, a preposterous premise is not necessarily enough to, ahem, sink a film, but it does present an obstacle for which a creative approach to filmmaking can compensate. That did not happen here. Instead, there is a non-ironic streak of those ci-mentioned coincidences that include a Russian sub captain (stone-faced Michael Nyqvist), who not only is conveniently left alive after his boat goes down, but also speaks English fluently, all the better to help Glass rescue the Russian president (Alexander Diachenko who is sort of a Slavic Ashton Kutcher) from the pickle in which he finds himself at the end of the Murmansk fjord. There is also that tried-and-true trope of having bad guys who would be unable to hit the side of a barn with their considerable firepower even in they were sitting inside said barn.
Meanwhile, Oldman blusters incessantly as his hair becomes increasingly tousled by the exertion, an NSA agent (Linda Cardellini) teaches the military techs their job, and a team of special forces ops caricatures are sent to the fjord tip to assist Glass and new best friend in their mission. It’s complicated, but there are many lovely shots of submarines surfacing, diving, avoiding assorted projectiles, and gliding by mines set to explode at the slightest contact. All the while, Glass grimaces with the future of the planet on his shoulders, and his singularly unimaginative executive officer (Carter MacIntyre) spends the entire film (wrongly) questioning every command decision Glass makes.
HUNTER KILLER is a curiously inert attempt at an action film played out in a form reminiscent of a not quite competent industrial film rather than a taut suspense flick. The last 20 minutes make a valiant effort to pull itself together, but the alienating previous 90 or so have put us beyond caring for a film that gifts us with moments such as Common as a Rear Admiral who stand in the rain having a conversation because, apparently, there are no umbrellas in the Pentagon.