Retro Review: Basic

John Travolta returns to the silver screen as a disjointed ex-military man turned DEA agent who is trying to unravel a mystery.

Maybe John should be looking at the mystery of his fading cliché-ridden career, instead.

Charismatic Travolta plays Agent Tom Hardy, who is summoned by friend Chief Warrant Officer Pete Wilmer (Tim Daly) to look into the disappearance of infamous Army ranger drill sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson).

It seems that strange things are afoot at the old USO.

Wilmer teams Hardy with Lt. Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen) in the investigation.

Their first suspect is the only healthy survivor of the altercation Private Dunbar (Brian Van Holt).

Who will turn the tables on whom?

What’s the biggest secret surrounding the disappearance of West?

And what is it with John Travolta’s Hardy sprawling out on a table before Dunbar?

Basic is in the purest of words, a “basic” mystery. There is nothing flashy, shocking, debonair or risky about the thriller. The only thing that may be of interest to fans of the mystery genre is the film’s flip-flopping ending. As the film screeches towards its eventual conclusion it takes liberties to fool the audience. Some of the leads and twists are logical and worthy.

But it’s the film’s second to final hurrah that leaves me saying to myself, was that just a Scooby Doo ending I just saw. The ending is almost a cop-out and becomes even more so as the final chips are laid into place.

I also found a lot of Basic unwatchable. The pelting rainstorm, lightning flashes, gunfire and screaming men repeated at least four times made for a hard time in the theatre. The lighting in 85% of this film is atrocious. The lighting is so bad that half the time I can’t even tell who is who. That should be pretty hard to do when we are talking the difference between a group of grunts and actress-model Roselyn Sanchez.

The acting in this film is also quite flat. I felt that Nielsen’s Osborne felt a lot like a Sharon Stone or Joan Allen clone. She had no chemistry with Travolta’s over-the-top Hardy. I liked seeing Tim Daly in a significant role. It was also nice seeing Harry Connick Jr. in a different kind of role.

I could even begin to imagine what director John McTiernan was expecting from his take on this film.

Well what do you expect when director, cinematographer, casting director and costume designer all worked together on the 2002 goose-egg “Rollerball”?

This revelation explains so many of the reasons why this film is unwatchable. McTiernan used to be one of my favorite directors since he brought forth two of the best Die Hard films, Predator, Thomas Crown Affair, Hunt for Red October and Thirteen Warrior.

I guess it just goes to show that when McTiernan wants to stink he does it in style. Some of his giant stinkers include Medicine Man, Last Action Hero and of course Rollerball. Don’t worry John, your due for a great film soon.

(1.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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