By Preston Wilder
Maybe I’m too cynical for Stratton. Maybe we all are. Or maybe it’s just a bad movie. John Stratton (Dominic Cooper) is a cruder James Bond, lighter on the quips and heavier on shoot-outs and car chases. ‘M’ is now Sumner (Connie Nielsen), younger and more dynamic – she’s first seen getting off a treadmill – and, as in Skyfall, personally acquainted with the villain. The villain is Grigory Barovsky, a Russian gone rogue and in possession of a deadly bio-weapon. We know he must be psycho because he gives the person he’s about to kill a sip of whisky – “for courage” – before hurling him out on the balcony and shooting him. It’s unclear why he kills him on the balcony, where the gunshots are more likely to be heard, but fortunately the sounds go unnoticed; everyone seems to be inside watching the football anyway.
The film begins and ends with some decent action – especially the opening, an underwater raid that trades on that old standby, the diver who’s running out of oxygen. The rest is mediocre and worse, whether it’s the half-baked attempts to give Stratton some life outside the job (Derek Jacobi, as an old sailor who appears to be his only friend, gets saddled with most of the exposition) or just the plotting in general. A typically ludicrous scene occurs when MI6, having obtained one of Barovsky’s drones (he has four drones, which he plans to use to spread the bio-poison), decide to share some intel with the Russians – and give them the drone – in exchange for the return of a US journalist. This turns out to be a trick by Barovsky, who’s (somehow) found a doppelganger for the journo and tries to pass him off so he can get his drone back, a plan foiled by Stratton – but why would Barovsky go to such elaborate lengths when he can just wait for Russian agents to collect the drone, then kill them (which he does anyway)? And why on earth would the Brits relinquish the drone – their only clue – to Russia, when all they want to do is share intel? It makes no sense.
That’s not the issue, however. Many films are badly scripted or indifferently made, and we watch them anyway. The deeper problem with Stratton is political, inasmuch as the film celebrates things which it’s hard, in these cynical times, to join it in celebrating.
Firstly, it panders to the British idea of a ‘special relationship’ with the US, our heroes being an Anglo-American team with the Brits, implausibly, in the driving seat. “We, and by extension Washington…” says Sumner, while Stratton’s partner is a Navy SEAL, obviously not as smart as our hero – he loses his head, and nearly gets them all killed – but basically a good sort. This is all a bit rich, given all the recent talk of British foreign policy as America’s poodle – and I also cringed when a raid goes wrong in Iran (through no fault of Stratton’s) and Sumner sighs that “once civilians have been killed, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah are all going to blame us”; as if ‘our’ side is forever being victimised, and thousands of civilians haven’t actually been killed in the Middle East due to Western meddling. The nadir comes when Stratton and his team kidnap an Arab weapon-maker (he looks, and acts, like a tubby North London kebab-shop owner), threaten to kill his kid to get him to talk, then casually blow him up on their way out. Sorry Stratton, I’m not down with that.
There’s a similar dynamic in the otherwise totally-dissimilar How to be a Latin Lover, a bouncy, heartwarming, family-friendly comedy about an ageing gigolo (Eugenio Derbez, a huge star in Mexico) who finds himself at a loose end and reconnects with his sister (Salma Hayek) and 10-year-old nephew. Or at least, 90 per cent of the film is bouncy and heartwarming – the remainder being made up of dark, tasteless jokes which feel like malevolent hacks from a whole other movie.
A dad’s truck explodes (with Dad in it) in front of his family. A man in a wheelchair is repeatedly run over. A rich old dowager (Raquel Welch, looking good for 76) turns out to have artificial arms (!), and Eugenio accidentally pulls off one arm while his rival pulls off the other. A cat-loving woman is increasingly bloodied by her sharp-clawed pets. To be honest, the weird mix of tones is intriguing – and the film, after all, operates from a bad-taste premise, a man who preys on decrepit rich women, albeit almost smothered in cute-kid antics and Derbez’ nonchalant charm. Neither of these films is very good, to be honest – the smile tends to die on your face – but Latin Lover is at least bizarre in its inappropriateness, prompting an amused/bewildered ‘What were they thinking?’. Stratton is just dead in the water.
DIRECTED BY Simon West
STARRING Dominic Cooper, Connie Nielsen, Tyler Hoechlin
UK 2017 95 mins.
HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER **
DIRECTED BY Ken Marino
STARRING Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Raphael Alejandro
US 2017 115 mins.