Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright has been crashing at my house lately for some reason. In actuality this doesn't bother me so much because she chips in on the rent and even orders pizzas and stuff. Plus she always has interesting stories about some majorly goofed up nations she had to visit when she worked for President Taft, or whom ever! The bad thing about it is that she always brings with her her advance DVD copy of her favorite movie for us to suffer through. One might think this is a great idea until one discovers that Madeleine Albright's favorite movie is John McTiernan's Basic. This reviewer was hyped up for it... I mean, let's face it... the reunification of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson so well known for one of the all time greats, Pulp Fiction; John McTiernan, director of Predator and The Hunt for Red October; and the writer of the passable Darkness Falls (James Vanderbilt)... the Pedigree is there, so how bad can the film be? Well... Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad!
One might expect this broken tail light of a film to be a big deal because of the fact that the stars of Pulp Fiction are together again, but let me tell you, it's not the case. This is a mess not even the coveted Swiffer Wet Jet could clean up. Where should I begin? I don't know, and neither did the filmmakers. It must have looked really good on paper. Team up Jackson and Travolta, set it in the midst of military intrigue and the war on drugs, make it a mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie meets Gomer Pyle, and then throw in one of those twist endings that all the kids seem to be taking about these days! Well, that's true... it had potential, but the flop quickly devolves into one of the most derivative and predictable mysteries I've ever seen and is a waste of a pretty good cast.
Jackson is in deeply nasty form as Army Ranger Drill Sergeant West, the king of all stereotypical ass-hair movie sergeants. I mean this guy makes R. Lee Ermey look like Fred Rogers with a new zipper-sweater. Anyway, on an anything but routine training exercise, a hurricane hits and half of his team turn up murdered or missing... and that just might include West himself. Travolta smirks his swath across the screen as Agent Hardy, a former Army Ranger turned DEA spook in Panama. He's lost his Vincent Vega gut since Pulp Fiction and is dying to show you what Kelly Preston is getting in several shower scenes. It's hinted that he's under suspicion of bribery when he's called up by Tim Daly's Colonel Styles to investigate just what the eff you see kay went down on that crazy mission. Connie Nielsen as officer Osborne assists Hardy mostly against her will in the investigation, and for the most part serves as an object for Hardy's lechery and inappropriate comments.
What follows is not so much a series of red herrings, but an entire ship boat of herring fish left out to rot until bright red and stinky as used scoop-fresh cat litter then dumped in no particular order on the screen, not so much to result in the audience's interest and confusion as to annoy and (let's face it) tickle the audience. There are more unintentional laughs here than in a nineteen-fifties pamphlet about birth-control.
The real shame, shame, shame about this celluloid tripe is that the first twenty minutes seemed like a pretty good film. The set up and the execution provide tension and excitement, and there is more good acting than over the top cheese (thank you). I was almost ready to agree with old Maddie when the film began to slowly slide down into the ridiculous down the inside of McTiernan's thigh! For one thing, there is more implausibility in this film than in the Raelian Bible. Real life military protocol and procedures go out the window in favor of moving the plot along albeit slowly. Clichés seem to dominate and weigh down even the most believable parts of the film! Investigators are taken off a case, but diligently keep working to find "the Truth" (and still have access to prisoners and resources... come on)! The murder mystery becomes a conspiracy between the military itself and, obviously, a covert para-military group. The investigator is inexorably tied to the murder victim everyone hated. Most clichéd of all is the "surprise" "twist" ending that is by now as stock as it can possibly be. When Fight Club came out we were surprised... when The Sixth Sense came out we were floored... when Basic came out we were bored. Madeline Albright or no... this movie isn't filled with surprises... except for how bad it turned out to be. The actual ending is so predictable and unfathomably silly that I felt truly and deeply insulted. Not just the ending, but the final ten or fifteen minutes is a baseball to the jaw. You could tell that each actor and presumably the rest of the crew were as self satisfied as Mike Myers at a Mike Myers convention! This is the day, yes, this is the day that I finally realize that John McTiernan doesn't like me, or you, or anyone else... he likes his Bank. Let's face it... he also directed the remake of Rollerball, and Last Action Hero
In spite of a script that wasps would reject for a nest, the acting here is good, from Tavolta, to Jackson to Daly, even down to our friend Giovanni Ribisi who is ordinarily always the same... he's different here. Too bad it's this film he decided to be notable in. Taye Diggs and Roselyn Sanchez are also fair enough. Harry "What the hell am I doing in this movie" Connick Junior is clearly intended to add drama and class to a film story-boarded on a roll of Charmin, but he's again another excuse for a stock character. One thing I can force myself to say is that this film is not boring... not really! Strangely this kept my attention quite well! No, I had no interest in the characters or what the resolution to the denouement was, but I couldn't wait to see what humorous goof trip we'd be exposed to on the way to the all-too-obvious ending. Seriously... I felt like Ian McDiarmid in Return of the Jedi saying "Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen!" But... on the way the ideas that made it to the screen are so incredibly funny that I wasn't bored... hurt, but not bored. I can see a "Basic Drinking Game" arising soon enough. John, Sam, Tim... you deserve better.
Two Stars out of Five for Basic! It proves to me that Jackson and Travolta aren't always good together... that I am the equivalent to a flesh ATM machine to John McTiernan... that Travolta can do worse than Battlefield Earth... and that the surprise twist ending is either dead or in critical condition and in need of rest... please, give it its rest... please? Even Shyamalan is. Okay, that's it... Madeline, we're watching Pulp Fiction instead of this garbage next time! Why? Because I said so darn it. What? What was that? Don't you mouth off to me, it's my DVD player, that's why! Look Albright, I have two words for you, okay... Ruby... Ridge! Two more words... Elian... Gonzales! Ah? Aaaaaaaaaaaaah? I think you hear me knockin'... and I think you're staying out! Basic indeed! Where's that emergency Eye wash?