The first big movie premiere of 2022 has come — and it bombed.
“The 355,” an action/espionage film starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Penelope Cruz, released on Jan. 7. The title references Agent 355, a still-unidentified female spy from the American Revolution.
Produced on a budget ranging from $40 million to $75 million, it only recouped $4.8 million. It feels like “Ocean’s 8” meets “Jason Bourne.” On the surface, that seems interesting until you actually watch the film.
While it has a competent cast of actresses and a stellar review from Leah Greenblatt at Entertainment Weekly, the movie failed with most critics, pulling from the same bag of tricks that “Black Widow” used during the summer to vilify every male character at every turn. The 2019 “Charlie’s Angels” reboot used that same tack.
There are so many double- and triple-crosses throughout the plot, audiences will get whiplash trying to determine who has the MacGuffin darknet data drive capable of “starting World War III” as the official synopsis indicates.
Chastain pitched the project to Simon Kinberg while working with the director on “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” a film that also tanked. There is enough to make the film interesting and the action set pieces do seem well-rehearsed and executed, but this film suffers from a lot more than a weak box office weekend.
While many defendants of the movie claim its opening weekend was hindered by outbreaks of COVID-19’s omicron variant, there are more factors contributing to the failure. Let’s count them down.
First, the marketing team at Universal Pictures did a poor job on publicity. The first trailer hit theaters in October 2020 with very little since. The campaign didn’t get aggressive until the last week before the film’s release.
Second, it was originally slated for Jan. 15, 2021, but was delayed nearly a year because of the pandemic. That’s not surprising, but it had to contend with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is still holding strong at No. 1 for its fourth straight weekend, plus it went up against “Sing 2,” a kids movie.
Omicron isn’t hurting Spidey’s numbers by a longshot.
Third, “The 355” doesn’t really seem to understand what kind of audience it needed to target. Typically, espionage movies draw in more male moviegoers and it feels like the studio executives were banking on the mostly all-female cast to draw in the female demographic.
Fourth, it feels like Kinberg — who co-wrote the screenplay — never researched how actual spies and their agencies operate. For example, Cruz plays a DNI (Colombian Intelligence) psychologist described as having “no field experience”; there is no real reason given for such a character to be sent into the field.
It felt like the character was shoe-horned into the plot to round out the cast’s requisite level of diversity and more often than not, she’s the unnecessary damsel in distress. That’s a far cry from the more confident and capable scientist-turned-action heroine Cruz played in 2005’s “Sahara.”
Fifth, the movie borrows cliched elements from many other better properties. The spy video glasses near the film’s climax feel ripped right out of “Mission: Impossible.” And, the true antagonist turning on the femme fatales and getting them blamed for the film’s central chaos before leading the charge to arrest them steals from the movie version of “The A-Team.”
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Save your money and wait for “The 355” to hit cable.