With apologies to General Sherman, Judge Mitchell Hattaway points out that bad war movies are hell.
Twenty-four hours is the difference between life and death.
Did I miss something? When did Canada become a member of the Axis of Evil?
Facts of the Case
Dogged at every turn by Fedayeen insurgents, a U.S. Army patrol in Iraq desperately attempts to make it back to base.
Have you ever thought about how much Ontario resembles Baghdad? Neither have I, primarily because it doesn't, but that didn't stop director Sidney J. Furie (the man responsible for such classics as Iron Eagle and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) from using the Great White North as the location for his latest slice of cinematic cheese. Yeah, yeah, I know he was shooting a no-budget flick and couldn't actually travel to the Middle East, but Furie's decision to have Canada stand in for Iraq is about as ridiculous as John Wayne's decision to have Fort Benning stand in for Vietnam in The Green Berets (who knew the jungles of Vietnam were full of pine trees?). Speaking of Wayne's opus, it's quite possible American Soldiers will supplant The Green Berets as the worst war movie of the modern era. It's just as unintentionally funny, just as clichéd, and possibly even more inept (the only things missing are Richard Pryor, a cute kid, and a final shot of the sun setting in the East).
The opening titles of American Soldiers inform us that April of 2004 was the worst month for U.S. casualties in Iraq since the "official" end of the war the previous year. That fact could have provided the starting point for an honest, heartfelt film which pays tribute to U.S. troops, but American Soldiers certainly isn't that film. Furie and writer Greg Mellott jettison realism early on and simply pile cliché upon cliché, and laughable situation upon laughable situation. The squad consists of one black guy, one Jewish guy, one Hispanic guy, one Italian guy, three rednecks, and eight sergeants (the performances from the actors portraying these soldiers are uniformly awful). Want to guess who goes down first? Want to guess who eventually steps up and attempts to lead his fellow soldiers to safety? The corny dialogue the characters spout was past its expiration date sixty years ago (it's obvious these guys would do anything for each other; they remind us of this every three minutes). There's no flow to the narrative; the movie simply moves from one ridiculous episode to the next. The squad runs across an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) every five minutes. They quickly dispose of each device, only to be repeatedly confronted by rocket propelled grenade-wielding insurgents in Nissan trucks. (These insurgents are portrayed by Canadian extras whose research into their roles apparently consisted of watching the video for The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" and Jamie Farr's performance in The Cannonball Run.) The insurgents stand ten feet away and fire at the troops, but never seem to hit anything; rockets fired at vehicles have a tendency to somehow pass through said vehicles and impact harmlessly on the other side, while rockets fired at the soldiers always explode in front of wherever the troops are positioned. The U.S. troops, who somehow never have to stop to reload, fire back, hitting their targets with ease. The troops then move on, encounter another IED, and are confronted by the same RPG-carrying insurgents in the same Nissan trucks (CG bullet hits allow the trucks—and the Canadian extras' costumes—to be reused). This continues on and on until the climax, during which three American soldiers armed with knives take down fifteen Fedayeen armed with machine guns. Oh, there is one reprieve from the fighting, but the less said about the scene in which the black guy leads an uprising against an intelligence officer who is torturing Iraqi prisoners the better (the movie's desire to please everyone/offend no one is yet another of its laughable elements).
Let's see, did I forget anything? Oh, yeah. Remember how Stanley Kubrick had palm trees imported to England for Full Metal Jacket? Furie employs the same trick here, but I guess he could only afford three trees. The same three palm trees dot roadsides throughout the movie. Wait, that's not entirely true. They actually dot the left side of any given road. Look to the right and you'll see the leaves of various North American species changing colors in the chill air. Then there's the truck carrying the American troops, which I'm assuming had to be returned to its owner in pristine condition and therefore couldn't sustain any damage. It gets hit at least once full-on by an RPG, and is hit on more than one occasion by machine gun fire, but you'll never see evidence of dents, holes, or scorch marks. (From evidence provided here, you can hit a troop transport with an RPG and cause no damage, but you can blow up a Nissan truck simply by shooting out the passenger's side window. That's good to know.) One scene has the troops examining the wreckage of a helicopter they had been hoping would carry them back to base. This mass of wreckage is comprised of only three pieces, two of which are from different makes of chopper (the engine housing is from a Huey, while the nose appears to be from a Bell Jet Ranger). And did I mention that the music is awfully reminiscent of Han Zimmer's score for Black Hawk Down? Surprising, huh?
I'm sure the presence of grain in the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is, to a certain extent, a stylistic choice, but the backgrounds in a couple of scenes are swarming with grain, which I'm sure isn't intentional. Dialogue is always clear in the Dolby 5.1 track, and surround action is plentiful and nicely integrated; unfortunately, the low end can be a little weak at times, and many of the explosions sound canned. Extras consist of an uninformative making-of featurette (there's too little making-of footage and too much footage from the finished film) and a handful of trailers.
American Soldiers is ridiculously awful. And if it were any less ridiculously awful it would be offensive. The troops certainly deserve a better tribute than this turkey.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Velocity Home Entertainment
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
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