Gerard Butler stars in submarine thriller that doesn't ace the test, but passes it

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It's tough to take "Hunter Killer" seriously, but this by-the-book geopolitical submarine thriller manages its stiff jaw, tough-guy posturing well enough to stay just above water. 

Gerard Butler is Joe Glass, a military man whose character is spelled out in his introduction. He's hunting a deer and has the big buck in his sights but stops short of going in for the kill when he spots its family trailing a few steps behind. He's a man of principle, see, whose code of honor defines his actions.

Joe is called in by the U.S. government to embark on a daring submarine mission that involves a Russian political coup. He must convince his men to trust a Russian sub captain (Michael Nyqvist) and help extract the Russian president (Alexander Diachenko), all while helping navigate his sub through a political and literal minefield. 

Above the surface, a Navy SEAL story that plays out like a basic cable retelling of "Lone Survivor" is unfolding. Meanwhile in Washington, Common and Linda Cardellini play a pair of government officials who are smarter than the room, who get yelled at by a higher ranking admiral (Gary Oldman, yelling) for their efforts. 

Director Donovan Marsh and the script (based on the 2012 novel "Firing Point") take a long time setting up the story. But the film's second half kicks into gear and plays out like a moderately efficient popcorn thrill ride, even if it's not on the level of sub thrillers like "Crimson Tide" or "The Hunt for Red October." 

Butler, whose very presence has come to symbolize lowered expectations (although this year's "Den of Thieves" was a pleasant surprise), is convincing in his own humble-macho way. Like "Hunter Killer," his performance doesn't linger long, but it fulfills its mission.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Hunter Killer'

GRADE: B-

Rated R for violence and some language

Running time: 121 minutes

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