This female-driven spy story comes up short

From left, Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong’o star in “The 355.” Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures/TNS

A doomsday device is in danger of falling into the wrong hands — are there ever correct hands for a doomsday device? — and an international squad of female spies is out to save the world from eminent destruction. Call them the Spies Girls.

That’s what they might be called in a film with a little more levity than “The 355,” an action-packed but stiff spy story that gets the big showy pieces right but doesn’t invest enough in its characters. Yes, they can wield big guns and hack into any system just like the James Bonds and Ethan Hunts of the world. But by the end of the film, you’ll have trouble remembering their names.

Jessica Chastain is Mace Browne, a CIA officer who is teamed with her partner Nick (Sebastian Stan) on international assignment in Paris. When a job goes bad, she tracks down German agent Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), and after a hot pursuit through the streets and subway tunnels of Paris (and a nasty fistfight in a fish market), she finds they’re after a common enemy: a bad guy looking to control a superhacker device that can access any closed computer system on the planet. (In short, in can do a lot of harm in just a few keystrokes.)

Along with British former MI6 agent and digital specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o) and Graciela (Penelope Cruz), a psychologist for Colombian intelligence agency DNI, they traverse the globe tracking the sale of the device. After a stopover in Morocco they land in Shanghai, where they align with the fifth member of their team, Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan), who has been eyeing the ladies from afar and is several steps ahead of them.

Director Simon Kinberg (he worked with Chastain on “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”) delivers several bang-bang action sequences, including a blowout in a Shanghai hotel room that leaves a lot of rubble for housekeeping to sweep up. What’s lacking is a sense of personality from the individual members, and the group as a whole. They’re given lives and family members that they’re pulled away from, but they’re only used as chess pieces in an effort to heighten the story’s emotional stakes — there are plenty of scenes showing the women on the phone with their loved ones — and they openly grouse about how James Bond never has to deal with real life back home.

“The 355” — the clunky title, which sounds like an area code, is a reference to a nameless female spy during the American Revolution — boasts a strong cast, a slick look and all the high-tech, globetrotting, backstabbing and double crosses we’ve come to expect from today’s spy stories. But if the effort here is to lay the groundwork for a franchise (“The 355 2?”), the intrigue level just isn’t there, and that may prove an impossible mission.


‘THE 355’

Grade: C+

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material)

Running time: 2:04

Where to watch: In theaters Friday

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