Hunter Killer isn’t smart enough to know that it needs to be dumb. The submarine thriller—starring Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, and their iffy American accents—seems to be aiming for verisimilitude: Its wall-to-wall dialogue is a mixture of imposingly nonsensical military jargon and casually delivered tough-guy soldier banter, and its visual look is pure, gleaming weapon-porn, enough to make any gun show attendee doff his camo trucker hat in admiration.
But its story, about a US submarine going up against a bunch of Russians, is very silly indeed, and Hunter Killer seems intent on delivering it without even a trace of a wink. The Russians, you see, have maybe shot a torpedo into a different American sub, so Butler and crew float into hostile waters to investigate. Turns out there are good Russians and bad Russians, and in order to stop a world war, they need to figure out which is which.
Hunter Killer was filmed two years ago, before the election results came in, so it might as well have been a lifetime. The US has—get this!—a woman president, a maternal blonde lady who wears nice suits and doesn’t put up with any nonsense. Russia’s president, meanwhile, is a blandly kind, sandblasted-Nathan-Fillion type and not a short, bald sleazebag gangster who rides around on horses without a shirt on. We can tell he’s supposed to be one of the good Russians because of his inoffensively brooding handsomeness.
Hunter Killer was filmed two years ago, before the election results came in, so it might as well have been a lifetime.
There’s a lot going on—too much, really—in Hunter Killer. A big chunk of the movie is spent with team of Navy SEALs who have been assigned to extract the Russian president and who seem like they’re in a different movie entirely, a possibly stupider (and therefore better) one. The submarine itself is Dullsville; Butler’s captain barely registers, except for when he tells a Russian, “We’re no different, you and I,” as if that line had never been uttered in a movie before. All of the other sailors might as well be algorithms for all the humanity they evince; Oldman, meanwhile, spends his few onscreen minutes on a cheap-looking war-room set where he yells at Common and Linda Cardellini about nothing in particular.
The huge supporting cast is almost exclusively male and white, and as the plot thickens, we’re somehow supposed to tell these dozens of uninteresting men apart from each other. Unfortunately, director Donovan Marsh has neither the storytelling skills nor the visual acuity to help us with this impossible task, instead opting to shock-and-awe us with excess and chintzy CGI. There are elements of a halfway-decent, appealingly goofy military thriller deep at the bottom of Hunter Killer, but the movie runs out of air before it can bring them to the surface.