‘Hunter Killer’ is an exciting popcorn thriller

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“Hunter Killer” is kind of a throwback movie. These days, we don’t see too many films about submarines or the Cold War. This one has both. The plot, filled with clichés, feels somewhat dated, but the storyline, dialogue and action star Gerard Butler (“Olympus Has Fallen,” “London Has Fallen”) can get the attention of today’s generation.

Spoiler alert, the Butler did it. As American submarine Captain Joe Glass, he carries the movie but demonstrates a needed restraint while sharing the screen with some brilliant veteran actors. Those that appreciate this genre should be pleasantly entertained but those with even a mild case of claustrophobia might be cringing in their theater seats.

From the outset, we learn our captain did not attend the Naval Academy but worked his way up through the ranks. That makes him one of the regular guys. Set in the Barents Sea, off the northern coast of Russia, those Ruskies are up to no good and its up to Captain Glass to figure out why. Against protocol and strong advice from his ranking Commander Edwards (Carter MacIntyre), Glass is guided by his instincts.

What they find is a sunken Russian sub about 20,000 leagues under the sea (ok, we made up the depth), but it appears to have been blown up from inside, sabotaged. The problem is that it will appear the Americans had done the deed, which could start a war. Meanwhile, they are being chased by another Russian vessel hot on their heels.

Based on the novel “Firing Point,” co-authored by Commander George Wallace of the USS Houston, with Don Keith, director Donovan Marsh (“Avenged”) delivers a constant state of intensity buoyed by an overly dramatic musical score. While our sub is dodging the Russian fleet, a SEAL team is parachuting behind the enemy lines.

It appears the shenanigans are there to mask a coup d’etat by the evil Russian Defense Minister, Dmitri Durov (Michael Gor). They are overthrowing President Zakarin (Russian actor Alexander Diachenko). Naturally, our own Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), overreacts and is ready to bomb the heck out of them.

Thankfully, NSA special agent Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) counters his snap judgments, while Captain Glass attempts to rescue survivors of the Russian sub. The Americans only hope is to capture the Russian President and coop the Russian Admiral Andropov (Swede Michael Nyqvist, who recently passed away).

Commander Edwards asks, “Did we just start a war?” Captain Glass responds, “No, but we might’ve sailed into one.” Meanwhile, the hotheaded Donnegan bellows, “You didn’t start a war, you just lost one!” Okay, it’s a little convoluted and a stretch of the imagination, but after all, it is a Gerard Butler movie.

This flick won’t win any awards, but if you buy into the preposterous premise, these fine actors deliver the expected action to make an exciting popcorn thriller. It’s not as serious as “Hunt for Red October” (1990) but each of the “sub” plots have their own story that feeds into the rewarding conclusion. Therefore, at its lowest common denominator, it’s just a lot more interesting and exciting than most.

“Hunter Killer” is 121 minutes and rated R for violence and some language. Butler and director Donovan worked aboard the USS Houston for three days to learn the nuances of an actual submarine in action. Ready to film in Whittier, Alaska, Governor Bill Walker ended the state’s film subsidies right at that time, so production moved out of state. This movie features a lot of torpedoes launching, bombs bursting, automatic rifles firing and behind the scenes politicking. But a lot of the scenes are performed in extremely close quarters. For some in the audience, the submarine action runs silent, runs deep, while others might feel it is mostly silent but deadly.

Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: D

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Ron & Leigh Martel