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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Basic

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Judy Thorburn

"Basic" - Is Basic-ally A Confusing Military Drama

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“BASIC” IS BASIC-ALLY A CONFUSING MILITARY DRAMA

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It’s really a shame to see such talent as John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson wasted in a disappointing movie as Basic. It’s especially unnerving, since this is the first time they are reunited on screen since they teamed up for Pulp Fiction almost ten years ago. It would have been cool to see these actors bounce off each other once again.  But, we never get a chance to see that in this film, since they share the screen for only one brief scene.   Both are dynamic stars who deserve much better than this incomprehensible script.

Basic deals with the investigation of an Army training exercise along the Panama Canal that appears to have turned deadly.  Six soldiers were sent, and only two came back alive. Given only six hours, Lt. Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator, One Hour Photo) is assigned to interrogate the two survivors before they are flown to Washington.  But, when she can’t seem to get anywhere, Chief Warrant Officer Wilmer (Tim Daly), calls in his old friend and the best interrogator in the business,  former Special Forces Ranger, current DEA agent,  Thomas Hardy (Travolta), who himself, is being investigated on suspicion of bribery. The self assured and cocky Hardy has his own method of getting his suspects to talk in order to find out the truth.  But, what he uncovers, as told in flashbacks by the two remaining soldiers, Dunbar (Brian Van Holt) and the self proclaimed homosexual, Kendall, is a series of conflicting stories and contradictory accounts of what led to the killings and disappearance of the rest of  the troops and the vicious, sadistic drill Sargeant, Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson) in the jungle.

Up to this point, the story is interesting. But, as the plot starts taking the route of twists and turns, it gets out of control and loses itself in confusion. Screenwriter, James Vanderbilt (who scripted the awful Darkness Falls) goes too far with just too many twists that leaves the audience bewildered even after the  “surprise” ending that is supposed to put all the pieces together.  The problem is, it just doesn’t make much sense, no matter how many times you replay the events leading up the finish  And that is a bad thing. No one enjoys a good twist that results in a great “gotcha” ending more than me.  Think Usual Suspects or the Sixth Sense as prime examples. They were both brilliantly executed, and created a clever mystery that brought all the previous plot elements together in an understandable conclusion, something that this movie fails to do.  The only thing you get from Basic’s mind games is a headache, if you don’t lose interest, or care, after about half way through.

Director  John McTiernan, lately known for his flops, 2002’s Rollerball and the 13th Warrior, unveils the plot in atmospheric sets that are dark and gloomy, with much of the scenes in the drenching rain to set the mood. Unfortunately, it is delivered in a convoluted and choppy way. He needs another good action thriller like his Die Hard or The Hunt For Red October to get back on top of his game. The lithe Nielsen, impressive in Gladiator and One Hour Photo, is out of her league when matched with the charismatic scene stealer, Travolta.  Miscast, in  a performance that is stiff  and emotionless, she can’t seem to hold on to her attempt at a southern accent that is present when we first meet her, but which disappears for the rest of the movie. This was a role more suited for, say, Joan Allen.  Travolta, on the other hand,  after losing 25 lbs,  looks more fit and  buffed than he has in years.  Ever strutting his stuff, the self assured actor just smacks of charm and appeal. If only he would let his hair grow out of that unattractive “gladiator” look.  He, and Jackson, who is as powerful as ever, are always fun to watch. They just need a better vehicle to show what they’re worth.

But what it comes down to is this.  Is Basic worth the trip to the theatre? The trailers sure are inviting.  But, if you want a logical story and a satisfying ending, expect a letdown. That’s getting down to the basics.