John Stratton (Dominic Cooper) is a member of the Special Boat Service, a crack team of British-led commandos who are recognised around the world as among the best at what they do, strong, powerful, tactical and reliable. But this latest mission for Stratton is proving more of a challenge than he or his colleagues are used to as he approaches an Iranian fuel and chemical depot by the sea of the Gulf with one of his team and they begin to investigate the place, trying to avoid being seen by any of the authorities. They enter the plant by one of the water-filled pipes that lead to the sea, but there is peril when something in the water causes their oxygen to leak - yet that's not the half of it.
Nope, when they get out, risking life and limb, natch, there is nobody around, or rather there is but someone has recently slaughtered them all. What could they have been after? As this was the twenty-first century, we could safely blame terrorists in this, an actual British action flick that was nothing to do with James Bond. Based on the series of novels by Duncan Falconer, himself a member of the S.B.S. in an Andy McNab soldier turned author style, this attempted to make a franchise starter out of the kind of material where you wondered if it might not have been better off as a television pilot for a series that could show up on one of the satellite channels on a Saturday night.
In fact, what this most looked like was one of those adventure movies that had emerged from the Alistair MacLean-drenched, man's man thriller landscape of the nineteen-seventies into the eighties, where Roger Moore would take time off from Bond to show up in The Wild Geese or North Sea Hijack or The Sea Wolves, leading all the way up to Lewis Collins and his try at big screen stardom away from the warm glow of The Professionals on the small screen with the absurd Who Dares Wins. There was something of Collins in Cooper's reading, though you imagine that would have only been emphasised if the original choice for the role, Henry Cavill, had stuck around and not bailed on the project.
He did so with a week to go before shooting began, which made news at the time as it did not reflect well on the Man of Steel star, but by the stage Stratton had been released, that minor kerfuffle had been largely forgotten about because the film itself was not able to make much of an impact outside of the fans of the books who were intrigued to see what had been done to the stories. They were not exactly delighted, but for those wanting a thriller that delivered basic set-ups and did not tax the brain in any way, there was some satisfaction to be gained, even if going to the cinema to watch this would have had you wondering why you were not watching it at home with a beer and pizza. Cooper deserved some credit for holding the plot together at such short notice, but there was too much unexciting about its supposed excitements.
There was a spot of international flavour when the story moved to Rome, where they could crowbar in a car chase during the hunt for terrorist Thomas Krestchmann, who has nicked the McGuffin, a deadly virus that must be reclaimed by Stratton and his amazing friends so the baddie cannot explode a drone filled with the poison in the skies over London. The cast were not exactly A-list, but a few recognisable faces passed by, from Gemma Chan and Tom Felton on Stratton's team, to Derek Jacobi (A-list in the theatre, not so much in movies) as his elderly pal who lives on a houseboat, to Connie Nielsen as his boss, but nobody made a huge impression, it was workmanlike everyone appeared to be aiming for throughout. To underline the proudly British credentials, the climax took place with a chase against a double decker bus, a red one too, just in case anyone was in any doubt what country produced this. Essentially, if you had run out of episodes of Dempsey and Makepeace to watch on DVD, then Stratton was for you. Music by Nathaniel Méchaly.