Film Review: Stratton

A serviceable action thriller pitting a crack M16 against a Russian terrorist, 'Stratton' lacks the overpowering wow factor needed to compete against bigger-budget films in theatrical markets.
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M16 operative Jack Stratton (Dominic Cooper), a member of the Special Boat Service—the U.K.'s Navy SEALs—loses his longtime partner in an Iranian operation that goes all to hell in record time. And he isn't thrilled when his superior (a frosty Connie Nielsen, all slim, boss-from-hell suits and oh-so-posh accent; just call her the more stylish M) pairs him up with gung-ho American agent Hank (Austin Stowell).

Their new mission is an extension of the old one: The bad guy who got away is former FSB terrorist Grigory Barovsky (Thomas Kretchmann), reports of whose death 20 years earlier were greatly exaggerated, and he's escaped with an airborne biological weapon dubbed "Satan's Snow." What he plans to do with it is pretty obvious—Hello, heinous attacks on civilian targets in densely populated cities. The question is where and when does he intend to unleash hell. Based on the third novel in former Royal Marine Duncan Falconer's popular series of espionage thrillers, Stratton—with its sleek, tight-lipped hero, vehicular mayhem (double-decker bus!) and wicked threats to the free world—was always doomed to be compared to the James Bond/Jason Bourne/Mission: Impossible movies. It's an unfair comparison for many reasons, notably that massive Bond/Bourne/Mission budgets have always bought the biggest of everything—stars, locations, special effects, stunt teams, CGI effects, et al.—and trained audiences to step right up and expect to be blown away; anything less is a flat-out failure.

Stratton has been called on the carpet for being leaner and less flashy than those unabashed spectacles, despite the fact that it delivers its fair share of vehicular mayhem and other action-movie staples, including an excellent opening sequence in which two divers navigate a series of treacherous underwater tunnels as their air supplies grow dangerously low—aquaphobes beware. But while it's not a disaster, it's also not the little movie that could blow past its limitations and knock the skeptics out of their socks. Working from a screenplay by Falconer and Warren Davis II, director Simon West (Con Air) keeps Stratton moving, but he can't overcome the fact that the big reveal isn't a huge surprise or that Cooper (best known in the U.S. for playing Tony Stark’s father in Captain America and the “Agent Carter” TV series) isn't a sufficiently compelling onscreen presence to make audiences forget that what's going on around him doesn't transcend its formulaic roots. And not to be rude, U.K., but "Special Boat Service" lacks a certain sexy je ne sais quoi: It sounds like a local ferry business that delivers mail and groceries to offshore islands.

Ultimately, Stratton stands to play better in home formats than in theatres; divorced from the knock-'em-dead expectations that come with theatrical spectacles, its more modest virtues would have a chance to shine.

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