Adapted from the 2012 novel "Firing Point" by former submarine captain George Wallace and Don Keith, the film stars Gerard Butler as the US submarine Captain Joe Glass who is in charge of a dangerous deep sea mission to rescue the Russian President Zakarin from a coup designed by the President's power-hungry, rogue Defence Minister Dimitri Durov (Michael Gor) and so avert World War III.
Once the establishing pillars of a creaky setup which comprises the complexities of international relations, are firmly in place, the plot is then reduced to a moral game of cat and mouse.
The inciting moment occurs in the control room drama between the trigger-happy old guard, as personified by the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), who recommends preparing for war and the more diplomatic approach of the Rear Admiral John Frisk (Common) who suggests that Glass's submarine be sent to investigate ground realities before pressing the red button.
And, under the waves, there's the maverick Captain Glass, willing to break the rules and even, collaborate with the supposed enemy, the rescued Russian Captain Andropov (Michael Nyqvist), if it keeps his men and the world safe.
The film may not have style or scale to boast of, but it makes the best of the limited resources at its disposal to provide a series of intense and outlandish set-pieces.
The sequences underwater and aboard the submarine do feel authentic thanks to some wonderful production designs and cinematography by Tom Marais. It gives us a sense of what life must be like for the naval officers who risk their lives in far-flung waters, but the drama, leagues below the surface, seems very synthetic and fabricated.
The dialogues too, are painfully awkward expositions. Amidst all that machismo and explosions, the words spoken are sheer cliches and excessively idiotic and embarrassing. Also, sometimes the cliches aren't spoken but are conveyed by mere glances between hackneyed excuses for characters, you can note it in the scene mentioned earlier, between Donnergan and Frisk.
The first half is perfunctory and the momentum picks up during the second half. If you're forgiving enough to look past some conspicuous Computer Generated Images and the blank look of the supporting cast, including Gary Oldman who receives top billing despite a cameo, the film barely generates thrilling or exciting moments.
On the performance front, while Gary Oldman goes overboard, Butler and Nyqvist are convincing. The script helps Common leave his mark as John Frisk. Michael Gor as the hurly-burly scrammed antagonist, is dismissible.
Linda Cardellini finds her voice heard as the lone woman of the National Security Agency in a male-dominated film.
Overall, Hunter Killer as a modern action film is awkwardly predictable yet exciting in parts.
"Hunter Killer" opens in South African cinemas on Friday.
Director: Donovan Marsh; Cast: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Michael Nyqvist, Common; Rating: **