Cinema Signal:

Knife Self-Defense for Combat

. "Basic"

A Rashoman puzzle set in a war zone with so many characters pulling so many deceptions that the victory goes to that part of the audience that can keep track of it. It seems that when a writer gets into twist mode, there's no stopping the tricks and, too often, the first victim is credibility.

When four members of a Ranger army unit are found dead or missing on a training mission, Officer Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen) is ready to closely interview the survivors to find out what happened. But she's headed off by ex-army ranger, DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) who is brought in for that duty, which he quickly demonstrates he has a special skill for, especially as it concerns Pete Wilmer (Timothy Daly), a man who will only be debriefed by a fellow ranger.

Wilmer spins a tale of how his unit, trained by a bellowing Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson), parachuted into a rain forest where agendas and revenge schemes started to cross things up. He relates that a bomb went off and West's body was found. Seems like West yelled a little too fiercely once too often for a member of the squad. But this does little to explain how and why Wilmer was found carrying out a wounded fellow ranger, Levi Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi).

So, Osborne and Hardy then go to the hospital where Kendall is being treated. He reluctantly offers his version of what happened that dark and rainy night, and there are a few discrepancies. As the investigators investigate, the quagmire of discrepancies deepen until we're into the conspiratorial mud so far that the final revelation of what happened and to whom is beyond our caring.

Director John McTiernan ("Rollerball") and writer James Vanderbilt have taken too many liberties with our trust by creating so many red herrings that you could wholesale them. They leave a trail so slippery that we have every reason to hold the creators responsible for injuries sustained. Their "surprise" ending is nothing more than an unsatisfying overspin of manipulation.

Add to that a patented performance by John Travolta who seems to be eager to do just about anything these days to keep his name on the marquee. Dispelling earlier images, he's trimmed down and sports torso muscles which he displays when the script opportunity arises or when it can be arranged. Otherwise, he loses no opportunity to display his usual wisecracking animal of cool congeniality. Connie Nielsen adds some class to the competition and what credibility there might be in an investigation destined for the rubbish heap of lost opportunities.

Jackson as a drill sergeant seems to be in his element with all the boisterous threats he could wish for at his disposal.

This is a whodunit you can sink your mind into. If you can avoid drowning in the endless stream of revelations, you might just get involved. But it won't be because of the dizzying artificiality behind it.

Click for full list of movie reviews

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Release order
Alphabetical order
To Jbmovies
(sample frames from movies photographed
by Jules Brenner)

All Reviews
Books, DVDs, Music, Restaurants

John Travolta...
proving that he's a ranger

Help us to continue
bringing you these reviews...
visit our sponsors (just a click will do it)
Best selling DVDs!