Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Timothy Daly, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt, Taye Diggs, Dash Mihok, Roselyn Sanchez, Harry Connick Jr. Cristián de la Fuente
Written by: James Vanderbilt
Directed by: John McTiernan
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 98
Date: 03/28/2003

Basic (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Un-Groan Soldiers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When a Rangers training mission in Panama goes wrong and only two out of seven soldiers come back alive, DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) is called in to solve the case. Paired with by-the-book Lt. Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen, with a strange disappearing/reappearing Southern accent), Hardy questions the two soldiers (Brian Van Holt and Giovanni Ribisi) but gets conflicting results. We see their stories in flashback, and alternating members of the squad are blamed for murdering hardass commander Sgt. West (Samuel L. Jackson). Obviously inspired by Rashomon, Basic keeps layering the plot twists one on top of another, but whereas the point of Kurosawa's film is that "the truth is unknowable," the point of Basic is merely to fool the audience. Even so, as directed by John McTiernan, the film has plenty of atmosphere -- using rainy, muggy Panama to fine advantage -- and Travolta gets good mileage out of playing a swaggering hero with degenerate, bravado tendencies. (Can any other major movie star get away with such low behavior?) It's very slight, but a pleasant time-waster. Taye Diggs also stars.

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