Cavill was right ……
Director Simon West’s latest actioner, Stratton, comes complete with its own backstory. The one about how everybody got very excited about Henry Cavill playing the title role when the project was announced. Then, just a week before shooting was about to start, he dropped out. It left West (Wild Card, The Expendables etc) with a headache and a hole where his leading man should have been – one who would have been a box office draw.
Cavill’s replacement turned out to be Dominic Cooper, an actor with a varied and decent enough track record on both the big and small screen. But he’s not exactly the first name that springs to mind when you think of an action hero. As the film shows.
The film’s based on the first of a series of novels by Duncan Falconer about Special Boat Services agent, John Stratton. Yes, apparently the SBS does exist and they’re even more secretive than the SAS. The story here involves the death of his partner, who he’s worked with for some time, and his replacement by another agent who’d worked with him and maybe has an axe to grind. On the mission when his buddy is killed, Stratton spots the leader of their assailants and he turns out to be a notorious Russian agent. Turns out he’s also managed to get his hands on a lethal, air borne pathogen and he’s planning to use it where it can do the most damage. All Stratton and his new partner have to do is stop him. Piece of cake.
It all gets off to a decent enough start with a 15 minute long underwater sequence – rather what you’d expect from the Special Boats Service. But once they’re back on dry land, the action shrivels up when it comes to delivering anything resembling thrills or excitement. It simply isn’t there. And what is there looks decidedly low budget to the point of cheap. Admittedly, West has said that he’s not used CGI for any of the set pieces and good for him, but that doesn’t mean it has to look as if it’s been done on a shoestring. And a tight one at that.
As far as the plot is concerned, it goes from one cock up to another. For an intelligence service, they make some pretty obvious mistakes. In fact, the members of the Special Boat Service are decidedly wet, with Dominic Cooper right out in front. He simply doesn’t have the chops to cut it as an action hero and his attempts at Bond-like humour and sexual tension between with fellow agent Aggy (Gemma Chan) are deeply contrived and unconvincing. But the award for the dodgiest piece of acting – and accent – goes to Connie Nielson as his boss. Not only is her performance so wooden you expect to see her break out in splinters at any moment, her accent is frankly bizarre, sounding like she took English lessons from a bargain basement Julie Andrews soundalike.
It’s difficult to find much that’s good to say about Stratton. It’s formulaic, predictable and strangely devoid of excitement. There’s not even enough explosions to while away the time by counting them. One thing it does demonstrate is that, although we know Simon West can make good action movies, he needs an equally decent budget. He clearly didn’t have one here and, if fans are expecting something in the vein of his movies with Sly, Jason Statham et al, that’s not what they’re going to get.
Henry Cavill knew what he was doing.
Stratton is released on Friday, 1 September.