“Behind Enemy Lines: Axis of Evil” gets the top prize for Most Timely Movie Ever, scheduled to hit DVD shelves October 17th, 2006, just a week after North Korea’s midget of a dictator revealed that he was not only in possession of a nuke, but had successfully tested one underground. The film itself was scheduled well before the North Korean revelation, and beyond the title, has nothing to do with the 2001 movie starring Owen Wilson as an American pilot downed in war-torn Bosnia. Which, considering all the rash of superfluous sequels to kinda famous movies that has nothing to do with said movies, is no big surprise.
“Axis of Evil” (the original title was “Land of the Morning Calm”, but I guess “Axis of Evil” just sounds, well, more evil) stars Nicholas Gonzalez (“Anacondas”) as Lieutenant Bobby James, a Navy SEALs commander whose unit is sent on a clandestine mission into North Korea to blow up a recently discovered North Korean nuclear missile facility. As the unit is about to parachute into enemy territory, the mission is aborted, but not before two of the SEALs have already made the jump. Confusion and chaos sends James into the skies along with buddy Spaz (Matt Bushell), while the rest of the unit returns home for further orders. They are, expectedly, anxious to get back and rescue their downed comrades, but are then mysteriously never seen again until the final minutes of the movie.
Meanwhile, American President Manning (Peter Coyote) is caught between two opposing views back home — a warmongering Southern General (aren’t they always?) who wants to blow the North Koreans to hell and let God sort’em out in a massive pre-emptive attack and a clear-thinking Navy Admiral (Aaron Pierce himself, fresh from “24”) who believes they can achieve the same results with a surgical, non-“blow’em up to hell” strike. Patterned clearly after Bush, our fictional President is understandably wrought with indecision. Luckily for him, he has an African-American female National Security Advisor and a bespectacled Chief of Staff to tell him what to do. Wait, did I mention that Coyote’s President was patterned after Bush?
The film actually opens well, with writer/director James Dodson taking us through a brief but mostly factual rundown of U.S.-DPRK political shenanigans, right down to the DPRK’s hoodwinking of former President Jimmy Carter, who, I must say, is quickly becoming the most gullible man to ever take on international politics as a career. Unfortunately for the movie, things go downhill from there.
We’re quickly introduced to our band of elite SEALs, half of which are too young to be “the best of the best” at anything, and the other half are war movie cliché, including, yes, the guy whose wife just had a baby back home; as well as that most famous of war movie stereotype, the greenhorn who must prove himself. Later, as the SEALs gear up for their mission, they act more like college Freshmen on their way to their first Spring Break than highly trained elite soldiers about to embark on a dangerous and potentially suicidal mission. I wouldn’t trust these guys to walk my dog, much less sneak into a sovereign country, blow stuff up, and get out undetected.
Dodson makes other mistakes with the screenplay, including an incredibly silly moment where the South Korean Ambassador stalks into the Oval Office to give the President and his staff a tongue lashing. Whereas in real life he would have been kicked out of Washington on his ass and sent packing back to his superiors in Seoul. One suspects Dodson was bending over backwards to show the South Koreans as more than just pawns of the U.S. (as is the common thought), but it reeks of pandering. And besides, if the South Koreans knew about the nuclear missile a week before the U.S. did, and didn’t bother to tell us about it, why are the Americans the ones being defensive?
Dodson further annoys by using every MTV camera trick in the book, including an onslaught of snazzy editing gimmicks that seem to exist solely to showcase Dodson’s ability to do snazzy editing gimmicks. And proving that he, too, has been heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, Dodson shoots the action sequences in “Axis of Evil” as if he was trying to give the audience seizures. Not only is the staccato, camera shutter manipulation style gotten really old (and indeed, should be retired right alongside bullet-time special effects), but Dodson overdoses on it to the point where the action is incomprehensible. Then again, considering the poor choreography of these action scenes, perhaps Dodson was trying to hide the fact that people are firing thousands of rounds at each other at close range and no one ever seems to get shot. That is, unless their death is in service of a dramatic, music-enhanced Impact Moment.
Of the cast, the usually distinguished Peter Coyote looks confused in the role of the President. One moment Manning gives the impression of a deer in the headlights, and the next he’s an earnest man of average intelligence trying his best, but is nevertheless way over his head. (Did I mention that Manning was patterned after Bush?) Leading man Nicholas Gonzalez spends half of the movie being tortured, rescued, and running away from North Korean soldiers. Despite the poor quality of the military sequences, they’re still better than the stale, confused nature of the White House scenes that parallels the story. It’s too bad, then, that Dobson seems determined to give the audience seizures with his erratic shooting style. Dear Mr. Dobson: If I develop a brain aneurysm thanks to your movie, you’re gonna get a letter from my lawyers, bub.
To be sure, “Behind Enemy Lines: Axis of Evil” was never meant to be a major work of art. It is an unnecessary sequel to a movie that was never really that popular to begin with, utilizing real-life events that gets trivialized due to poor execution on just about every front. But my favorite moment has to be one completely mind-boggling scene where an American soldier hands a North Korean dissident a gun, tells the guy to “Fight with us”, only to have the dissident commit suicide with the very same weapon scant seconds later. The sheer hilarity and surreal quality of that scene is simply priceless.
James Dodson (director) / James Dodson (screenplay)
CAST: Nicholas Gonzalez …. Lieutenant Bobby James
Matt Bushell …. Master Chief Neil “Spaz” Calahan
Mykel Shannon Jenkins …. Meideros
Shane Edelman …. Cam Dunlevey
Glenn Morshower …. Admiral Wheeler
Peter Coyote …. US President Adair Manning
Kenneth Choi …. Ambassador Li
Ben Cross … Commander Tim Mackey
Keith David …. Scott Boytano
April Grace …. Ellie Brilliard