There is a market for bad action films. Appealing to that b-movie demographic, though who respond positively to big explosions and contrived one-liners – not so concerned with character development, but in having a good time – and fair play to them. But for films of this nature to succeed, take, say the recent actioner The Hitman’s Bodyguard – the filmmakers behind the project need to be self-aware, to play up to the absurdity and overtly cinematic nature of it all, and thrive in such an area. But in Stratton, directed by Simon West – the distinct lack of any such self-awareness is remarkable, and hugely detrimental.
Dominic Cooper, who replaced the departing Henry Cavill, plays John Stratton – a Special Boat Service (SBS) commando who works in the shadows, and witnesses the death of his partner Marty (Tyler Hoechlin) during a mission to retrieve a biochemical substance which, if in the wrong hands, could prove deadly. Back on home soil, and under the guidance of old friend and father-figure Ross (Derek Jacobi), he works with the MI5 to help uncover the identity of the aforementioned thief before its too late, though while under instructions from Sumner (Connie Nielsen), the commander-in-chief –Stratton is reluctant to take all information at face value, unsure of who to trust, having to listen to his instinct, and hope it will be enough to thwart this international terrorist cell.
With a mere matter of moments you can tell exactly what sort of film Stratton is going to be. The cliched score that we hear countless times in generic action thrillers of this nature, the terrible dialogue between characters, which is supposed to be cool and witty amongst the operatives, and charming and romantic between the protagonist and any potential love interest – and yet fails spectacularly on every front. It’s not just the language that is contrived either, every narrative beat is predictable and ridiculous, and again, without any sense of self-deprecation, it’s inexcusable to be so stony-faced about it all, when really the key ingredient in this instance has to be fun.
You would hope, at the very least, that the acting would make amends for any plot and script deficiencies, and the cast assembled should really promise such a saving grace – and yet even that falls short. It doesn’t help that Cooper has been miscast, and while there’s no denying he’s a terrific actor (you only need to see Devil’s Double to work that out), he’s an actor who works best with nuance and to be subtle. There is so little depth here, nor room for him explore such credentials, and really what you require here is a more well-equipped action star. Never thought I’d say this, but perhaps this film would’ve been better with Henry Cavill on board after all.