If Gerard Butler sometimes appears to be imitating an ambulatory side of beef in “Hunter Killer,” he has good reason. Trying to play a role like this as a human being would be completely impossible.
Man, this movie has every cliche in the book: a brash submarine captain getting his first command in the midst of an international crisis, a crusty Special Ops crew parachuting through a lightning storm to pull off an impossible mission, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who goes around instigating World War III as he barks at everybody in the war room.
If only the film could get Gary Oldman for the latter role, but he’s just won an Oscar and he’s above this kind of thing now, so — hang on, this film did get Gary Oldman for the role. Scenery will be chewed.
And here we come to the secret of “Hunter Killer.” This movie embraces its hairy old hokum so thoroughly that it creates a pretty fun contraption. It rockets along without pause, delivers the boom-boom and squeezes maximum suspense from its submarine setting.
Butler plays the new captain, who (of course) never went to Annapolis, but learned his leadership skills the hard way and therefore must earn his respect from the crew. Got it.
His sub gets into a sticky situation under the Arctic ice, managing to pick up a Russian sub commander in a daring rescue. They need his help, but can the Americans trust him?
The Russian captain is played by the late Michael Nyqvist, the memorably weatherbeaten actor who came to fame in the Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. Nyqvist (who died at age 56 in 2017) adds a touch of class, and many of his exchanges with Butler take the form of grim nods of the head. Exactly what you want in a movie like this.
There are some lively actors in other roles, too: Common as a tough-but sensitive admiral, Toby Stephens as the leader of the secret mission, Linda Cardellini as a State Department official, and Russian actor Michael Gor (“Bridge of Spies”) as a frog-like general.
Nobody is going to mistake this for great cinema, or even for “The Hunt for Red October,” but director Donovan Marsh shoves the story headlong and always lets you know where the action is. If “Hunter Killer” isn’t an audition piece for a James Bond gig, I’ve never seen one.
It might sound like the movie is taking advantage of current edginess between the U.S. and Russia. But “Hunter Killer” actually comes down on the side of restraint and understanding, so maybe it’s out of touch with our times.
And I have to admit Butler carries the day — there’s much less ground chuck in his performance than, say, in “London Has Fallen.” Somehow it works. This is an easy movie to mock, but it’s an even easier movie to enjoy.
“Hunter Killer” (2½ stars)
Gerard Butler plays a first-time submarine captain dropped in the middle of an international crisis with the Russians — and that’s just the first of the cliches in this military thriller. It’s crammed with hokum, but the action is nonstop and suspenseful. With Gary Oldman.
Rating: R, for violence
Opening: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall