If you step into “The 15:17 to Paris” thinking you’re going to see a pulse-pounding film about the 2015 Thalys train attack, you’ll be disappointed. What you see is a movie about the undistinguished lives of the three Americans who thwarted the attack. Originally, director Clint Eastwood cast actors for the three principal roles — Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler — but, at some point, perhaps after one too many lagers at the Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, he asked himself, “Wouldn’t it be droll if the men played themselves in the movie?”
In related news, “The 15:17 to Paris,” which follows Eastwood’s solid thrillers “American Sniper” and “Sully,” is bad to the point of shocking. There are non-actors and there are those who should never act; Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler are the latter.
The film begins with the Spencer and Alek as kids in Sacramento — their mothers do not play themselves, as Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer were available. Perhaps to match the clunkiness of their adult screen selves, the young thespians playing the boys who would become heroes interact with each other awkwardly, as if they too have never appeared in front of a camera. The ADHD-afflicted kids have the same taste — their dislikes include reading and gym class, while they’re enthusiastic about guns and camouflage attire. When the chums meet young Anthony, they introduce him to the world of Airsoft guns and cavalry maneuvers in the woods.
Years pass, Alek moves away, Anthony begins his studies at CSU Sacramento and Spencer finds himself working at Jamba Juice. For the film, the men find themselves in the bizarre position of replaying dull exchanges they had over burgers eight years prior. In a burst of productivity motivated by wounded pride, Spencer transforms himself into an Air Force recruit. He is later cast out of that military branch because he takes too many inopportune naps — a humorous consequence of the film is that Spencer proves equally as unsuccessful in his chosen field as he is in acting.
Eastwood is lauded for only expending a take or two per scene. Out of morbid curiosity, one wonders if his untrained actors might have improved with more time to settle into a shot — they could not have gotten worse.
For all the talk of meeting their “destiny” whilst on vacation overseas, the lads reunite with a clear goal to be basic American tourists, drinking and Instagramming their way through European capitals, with a proclivity for selfie sticks and Red Bulls and vodka. Between spouting banalities about pictures being “Instagram-worthy,” the young men debate at length whether to go to France at all (Eastwood might have included a subtitle reading “This is foreshadowing”). It goes without saying that the deciding factor for a trek to the City of Light is the opportunity to take selfies at the Eiffel Tower. Thus the musketeers finally board that 15:17 to Paris.
While wincing at the performances of the Sacramentans, one reflects on the controversial figure of Ayoub El Khazzani (played by Ray Corasani), the assailant the Yanks must confront on the train. Assumed to be an Islamic terrorist at the time of the attack, El Khazzani maintained that he was homeless, found a weapon, and was trying to rob as many people as possible so he’d have something to eat. Why not include a thread on how he came to be on the train?
‘The 15:17 to Paris’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 1:36. Visit cinemawest.com.