John McTiernan’s Basic

John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.

-Nate Hill

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