The rather arbitrarily titled Hunter Killer is a submarine movie for dads, based on a novel called Firing Point (another random title) that looks like it is probably only for sale in airports. The dividing line on movies of this nature is thin and extremely subjective, but for me Hunter Killer is just simple-headed enough to hit the spot, not quite so ludicrous that it pulls me out of it.
After an American submarine is torpedoed in Russian waters, the Navy calls in the best man they have, a maverick named Capt. Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) who didn’t go to the Naval Academy and doesn’t always play by the rules but gets the job done, if you can imagine such a type. Glass and a crew take the USS Arkansas (“hunter killer” is the class of submarine it is) to investigate, leading to an exciting skirmish with a different Russian sub, not the one that torpedoed one of ours. That sub, the initial aggressor, is found sunk, but there are survivors aboard whom Glass and crew have a moral obligation to rescue and hold as POWs.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gary Oldman, advised by the Navy’s Adm. Common, dispatches a covert Navy SEAL team to Russia to spy on a meeting between Russian president Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) and minister of defense Adm. Durov (Michael Gor), hoping to find out why the crap the Russians torpedoed us in the first place. The SEALs, led by one Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens), are your standard group of young military hotshots with girlfriends back home, etc., and they observe Durov perpetrating a coup against Zakarin, executing his men and taking him hostage. Durov wants World War III, and he’s going to get it unless the Americans — working with the rescued Russian submariners, including their Capt. Andropov (Michael Nyqvist) — can extract Zakarin and take out Durov before the missiles start flying.
So we have action on two fronts, Glass underwater and the SEALs on the ground, which lets director Donovan Marsh maintain momentum by cutting back and forth between them. The screenplay, by Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss, offers the customary submarine jargon and militaristic barking of orders, with ample opportunities for manly men to get up in each other’s faces and whisper-growl. No one has ever accused Gerard Butler of being a good actor, and accusations aren’t going to start flying now, but there’s a certain charm to his roguish smile and sloppy, drunk-sounding American accent, and to the way Capt. Glass keeps talking about how he’s spent his whole life underwater and what a drag it is. In a couple years, FX or TNT or somebody will bleep out the F-words and show it constantly as comfort food for people who find The Hunt for Red October too intense.