At first glance, "Basic" looks like a cross between "A Few Good Men," "Training Day" and "The Usual Suspects," which sounds fine and dandy until you realize that screenwriter James Vanderbilt probably composed his screenplay by taking a copy of each of these scripts, flinging the pages around a room, picking up 95 pages randomly and handing them to director John McTiernan. The end result is about that coherent.
DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) is called upon to apply his interrogation skills to untangle a mess in Panama, where a troop of Army Rangers led by ball-busting Sgt. West (Samuel L. Jackson) has just experienced a training exercise gone horribly awry. Hardy is teamed with fellow investigator Lt. Julia Osborne (Connie Nielson), whose character suffers from a distractingly intermittent southern accent. Their investigation centers on two Rangers who return from the exercise with different versions of how Sgt. West happened to be fragged.
As the film unravels, we get different versions of What Went Wrong, but they all involve lots of flashes, shooting, yelling, and putting the camera in the middle of the action and spinning it like a top. At some point we're supposed to make sense of it all, but we really don't make sense of anything. The key players include Rangers Dunbar, Kendall, Pike, Nunez and others, but if you polled the audience at the end on which names belong to which faces, you'd get lower scores than if you popped a Middle East history quiz. Here's a bonus question: Why do all military thrillers flash screen text (e.g. "Panama City Canal Zone, 13:00 hours") across the bottom of the screen accompanied by that high-tech "computer readout" sound? Have you ever heard a computer make that sound? I don't even think the computers at NORAD make that sound.
Naturally, the conspiracy in "Basic" traces its way to drugs. Oooh, scary: drugs. That's how you can tell a movie was green-lighted before 9/11. How I long for the days when "drugs" topped America's list of worries. Just once, I'd like to see a conspiracy film drum up a real conspiracy, one that doesn't lead to drugs, aliens or aliens on drugs. Instead, I'd like to see the trail lead to something fresh, like a conspiracy at the highest levels of government where a cabal of power-hungry lunatics has taken over the world's lone superpower in a de facto coup and used its position to raid the treasury, crash the economy and embark a messianic quest to destroy the world. Now there's a conspiracy I'd like to see make it into the light of ERROR -- 404 -- UNEXPECTED END OF FILE
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