There’s a scene in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” in which Uma Thurman describes “Fox Force Five,” a pilot she appeared in, to John Travolta. In Thurman’s words, the show was “Fox, as in we’re a bunch of foxy chicks. Force, as in we’re a force to be reckoned with. Five, as in there’s one, two, three, four, five of us. There was a blonde one, Somerset O’Neal, she was the leader. The Japanese fox was a kung fu master, the black girl was a demolition expert, the French fox’s specialty was sex…”
Why Thurman is playing Arianna Huffington instead of revisiting her fictional pilot’s character in the film “The 355” is a question we’ll never get an answer to, although it’s probably because they already had two white girls — one of whom was the producer — and in “Fox Force Five 2022,” you need three women of color.
Quaint Identity Politics
For this, the star and producer Jessica Chastain went with Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, and Lupita Nyong’o. Diane Kruger plays the part of the other white girl and the second main protagonist. The antagonists, all males, are also diverse, thanks in part to the globetrotting nature of the “story.”
This isn’t to say “The 355” is about that sort of identity politics. It’s not. It’s about a quaint form of identity politics, one from way back in, I don’t know, say 2018, a time when things were simpler and focused more on sex. Blessings of liberty, I suppose.
But identity politics isn’t “The 355’s” problem. It’s a feature, because the producers, and the producer (ahem), had a chance to make a really awesome movie with a predominantly female cast, with lots of fighting and explosions, and all she/they had to do was greenlight a film with a semi-coherent plot and a plausible storyline.
On those points, she/they failed. As a man, this bothers me. This doesn’t bother me from a “Seinfeld” perspective, but from my perspective as a father of daughters. They deserve better. It doesn’t even have to be that much better.
All Exposition and No Plot
For example, during the previews, I was treated to Michael Bay’s latest upcoming film, “Ambulance,” a totally fresh idea with no resemblance to 1994’s “Speed.” During that short preview, I was provided with backstory, motive, and suspense.
After sitting through some two hours and four minutes of “The 355,” I cannot say the same. In fact, I cannot even recapture it. If you want a fairly charitable summary of what it is to watch this movie, the Critical Drinker has you covered.
When I say that his review is charitable, it’s because the Critical Drinker could have dunked so much harder. There’s basically zero plot, the McGuffin — a high-tech doomsday device — is just ridiculous, and there’s almost nothing compelling about the plot. All they had to do was make it slightly compelling.
And they (she) couldn’t do that. They (she) instead offered two hours and four minutes of a three-year-old telling a story. If you like all exposition and lots of jumping around with basically no backstory or purpose offered at any point, “The 355” is there for you.
‘The 355’ Is All Over the Place
In a nutshell, Jason Flemyng is some sort of supervillain who, naturally, wants the doomsday device. Chastain, working for the CIA, and Kruger, working for Germany’s BND, are on separate, competing missions to get the device.
They fight a lot before realizing the Colombian operative who had the device and was supposed to give it to Chastain had instead given her a dummy bag. They continue trying to shoot one another for a few minutes, then team up and go off in search of the Colombian operative together, along with Nyong’o, a British agent and surveillance/tech genius.
Cruz, a psychologist with Colombia’s DNI, ends up with a cell phone that can track the device when one of her patients, the Colombian operative, gets double-crossed by the Colombian government and killed. Just before dying, he grabs Cruz’s hand and sets the fingerprint password on his phone to hers, making her crucial to the mission. Shortly thereafter, the tracker is removed from the doomsday device as other bad guys get it and Cruz continues to be in the movie for some reason, despite desperately wanting to return to her husband and children and not having any experience with anything that’s going on.
At this point, the doomsday device begins changing hands a ton, although none of these characters are identified. Flemyng, one of the few non-generic bad guys, finally gets it. Chastain’s former bestie, Sebastian Stan, whom she slept with just before the failed mission to retrieve it from Cruz’s patient and who was killed in the process, ends up being not dead and working for Flemyng. Bingbing shows up, rescues the other four foxes, and they all team up together to get it back.
There are a lot more explosions and gunfights and fistfights, Cruz shoots Stan but doesn’t kill him, and the team gets the doomsday device back and destroys it. Two months pass. Stan is now in a leadership position in the CIA, they team up again to help Chastain get revenge on him, and then wrap things up by teasing a sequel.
I have bad news for Chastain: that sequel is not going to happen. This is a shame, because I kind of pine for that quaint form of identity politics.
Women Deserve Better
Do I think most women, foxes or otherwise, yearn to go out and get in gunfights and save the world? No, and I live with four women, three under the age of 18. While their fights are vicious and mean — boys call each other a stupid name, slug one another in the shoulder, and get over it while girls go straight for one another’s souls — none have expressed any desire to get into demolition. Well, none have expressed a desire to get into professional demolition. They are all pretty into freelance demolition inside the house.
Nevertheless, they do enjoy watching women on the screen. We’ve watched “WandaVision” and “Black Widow” together. We’ve watched “Wonder Woman” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” which, while terrible and not anywhere close to the previous three female-led offerings, wasn’t as bad as “The 355.”
In short, you can’t just take a stupid movie, possibly written by Philip J. Fry under a pseudonym, stick a bunch of foxes in it, and call it a success. You still have to tell a compelling story, otherwise you just end up with a less diverse iteration of “The Eternals.”
Our wives and daughters and female friends are not one-dimensional characters, defined solely by their sex. They’re complex creatures with different strengths, talents, and weaknesses. And for entertainment designed to celebrate them, they deserve better than “The 355” offers.
However, if you’re looking to score what is likely to be virtually a private screening of a movie for under $10, then “The 355” is an option. It’s a solid 3.7 film thanks to its depiction of the CIA as totally corrupt. Plus, while you’re there, you might see the preview for Michael Bay’s remake of “Speed,” which clocks in at 8.5.