What’s more phallic than a submarine? Director Donovan Marsh’s Hunter Killer, that’s what. This is a movie so macho that only two female characters have any dialogue — and mind you, one of those two is playing the president of the United States and has exactly one scene — I suppose to save room for more bromance, two-fisted (and ham-fisted) action and a heavy dose of blowin’ stuff up real good. This is a film that would have been right at home on a Blockbuster shelf 20 years ago but seems so insanely out of step with modernity and good taste that one has to ask exactly how long the script floated around before it wormed its way into production.
Before Hunter Killer, I had never considered what a boon our nation’s current beef with the Russians would prove to be for lazy screenwriters. Why come up with interesting or creative adversaries to feel the gung-ho brunt of American military might when you can just dust off those Red–Dawn-era spec scripts that have been gathering dust for decades? It bears mention that screenwriters Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss last worked together on the execrable Keanu Reeves/Morgan Freeman atrocity Chain Reaction (1996), so hopefully, that should give you some idea of the level of sophistication on display here. It’s a very dumb film is what I’m saying.
How dumb is it? Well, think Fail Safe meets The Hunt for Red October but without Henry Fonda or Sean Connery, and then add in a script that could have been generated by AI working solely from a collection of Peter Berg/Mark Wahlberg movies. You’ve got Gerard Butler inexplicably continuing down his path to becoming a poor man’s Liam Neeson in the lead as a maverick submarine captain. Then you’ve got second-billed Gary Oldman, whose head is just as big as Butler’s on the posters, in what I would very generously describe as five minutes of screen time. Linda Cardellini is the only woman in the film who does anything at all, but that “anything” basically consists of asking Common to do her job for her. And through it all, you’ve got director Donovan Marsh — who’s never helmed anything I’ve even remotely heard of — displaying a directorial style that establishes, to my complete satisfaction, exactly why I’ve never heard of him.
Now, lest you think some sense of elitism is clouding my judgment, I’d like to point out that I generally like bad war thrillers. Problem is, this isn’t the bargain-basement Tom Clancy story it seems to be aiming for. It’s not even cut-rate Clive Cussler. This is a new low in xenophobic paranoia-mongering capitalizing on a second Cold War that may never materialize by drumming up fear of what is probably the third or fourth least likely scenario for World War III currently on the table. It’s a film so geopolitically misguided that it might have been found in a time capsule from an alternate reality but certainly doesn’t have much of a place in this one. It’s dumb enough to occasionally be fun, but it’s also just a hair over two hours long, so those moments are too few and far between to add up to anything worthwhile. I guess it might be worth watching if you were stuck on a submarine, but even then, I suspect you’d have better options — firing yourself out of a torpedo tube, for example.