Review by C.J. Bunce

The 355 is the latest spy movie, a team-up of agents from different nations, starring three-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Penélope Cruz, and Bingbing Fan, winner of comparable Chinese awards.  It’s not a serious suspense thriller, and easier to compare–at least on paper–to the big-budget, all-star actress team-up of Ocean’s 8, but you may find The 355 more fun and executed better.  And although it boasts a lot of Academy Award street cred, it’s the co-star without the Oscar nods who really steals the show.

It’s National Treasure and Inglourious Basterds co-star Diane Kruger who creates the most badass spy of this impressive, all-female group who collide when they individually attempt to acquire and/or eliminate the latest world-busting smart weapon, all housed in a small computer chip.  If you like the series Leverage, you’ll understand what I mean when I say Kruger is the Parker of this unlikely team-up.  Her German, very James Bond-type (including origin story) has all the skills, and alone she’s probably enough reason to give the movie a try.

There’s not a lot of mastermindery to be found.  Chastain plays the U.S. agent who drives the narrative.  Her character is almost immediately stripped to the cliched female spy who falls for the guy spy, here played by Sebastian Stan in a very boring and flatly delivered performance.  Her character’s key feature seems to be the professionally inconvenient ability to stand out in a crowd, even dressed like Carmen Sandiego in one scene.  But she recovers, and she gets some good scenes where she demonstrates her own toolbox of skills.  Nyong’o is the British spy, a technology whiz who eliminates any plot delays with merely three taps to her cell phone, which seems to have access to the detailed lives of everyone on the planet (evidently the norm for MI6, if you believe Higgins in Magnum, p.i.).  Cruz plays a refreshing and unusual Colombian intelligence character who is not quite a spy.  She must adapt to the spy world quickly if she is to save her family.  And Fan ultimately proves equal to Kruger’s badassery, a late-breaking character who can clear a room of baddies.  She also lays the groundwork for a possible sequel.

The title The 355 is based on a notation in American Revolutionary War documents that suggest a female spy was in America’s ranks from the beginning of the nation’s history.

The set-up introduces characters in a similar manner as the movie version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E, although this lacks the style and music, and clever twists and turns.  But like that movie it telegraphs a hope for a series of movies featuring these characters.  Why not?  If you liked the action of movies that don’t take themselves seriously, like National Treasure, Kingsman, or the Jason Bourne movies, this movie is for you.  The 355 also has several elements that will convince you writer-director Simon Kinberg (Logan, X-Men series, Murder on the Orient Express, Star Wars Rebels, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and TV writer Theresa Rebeck are big fans of that espionage movie classic Sneakers, which is also a good thing.

Each of the actresses is believable in these roles, and the future, clashing relationship of Chastain’s spy and Kruger’s spy would be fun to see more of.  The story itself is thin with few surprises.  It’s not the dark and gritty stuff of Atomic Blonde, L.A.’s Finest, 6 Underground, or actual James Bond, but it’s good enough, popcorn movie fare, and a fun way to spend a few hours.  Watch The 355, now streaming on Peacock, and available here on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital at Amazon.