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SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE (2012)
Maxim Korostyshevsky’s “Soldiers of Fortune” has a pretty cool premise, which makes the fact that it’s such a bad movie rather disappointing. It goes a little something like this: rich tycoons pay for the privilege of fighting in a real war, albeit with ex-Special Forces operators like Christian Slater as their personal bodyguards. The whole thing is the brainchild of siblings trying to fund a rebellion on their small island nation, which is currently in the iron grips of a two-bit warlord and his ex-CIA right-hand man played by Colm Meaney, doing what Colm Meaney does best in movies like this, which is play the officious douche. Slater’s character is an ex-Army Captain booted out of the service when he disregards the orders of — you guessed it — a certain CIA douche. The two enemies meet up again when Slater leads the rich guys onto the island, where all manner of Tomfoolery, poorly shot action, and established actors like James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean, and yes, even Dominic Monaghan (of “Lord of the Rings” fame) attempt in vain to save this clunker.
The biggest mystery about “Soldiers of Fortune” isn’t how badly the whole thing is executed (in fact, the film’s highlight has to be its “sales pitch” introduction that you can see in the trailer below), but how the producers roped guys like Rhames, Cromwell, Bean, and Slater into doing this thing. Okay, so maybe getting Slater isn’t so hard nowadays. And Rhames, well, as the dreadful “Seven Below” proves, Rhames is up for a lot of questionable roles, with his saving grace being that he has managed to sprinkle some Hollywood stuff like “Piranha 3DD” into what is becoming a stunningly prolific direct-to-DVD career. In fact, the only reason why I could justify Cromwell, Bean, and company signing on for this is for the free vacation in a tropical locale. I’m guessing they shot this thing on some nice, sunny island. Hey, when you gotta get away…
If you were at least hoping for some respectable action in “Soldiers of Fortune”, I’m sorry to disappoint you, there’s none to be found here. The action, from first-time director Maxim Korostyshevsky, is cringe-worthy throughout, with some stunningly incompetent gunplay on display. There’s a raid on the rebel camp that is laughably bad, so poorly staged that you can’t possibly believe this is a professional production. God bless him, Christian Slater actually looks like he’s really trying, and so do most of the guys for that matter. It’s not really their fault that they’re surrounded by rank amateurs in front and behind the camera. On the plus side, you do get a pretty ludicrous jet ski battle between two women that drags on and on for no apparent reason.
SPECIAL FORCES (2011)
What’s a pretty Western journalist like you doing in such a bad part of Pakistan, Diane Kruger? Getting captured by the Taliban’s Western-educated leader (Raz Degan), as it turns out. Have no fear, though, Kruger is playing a French journalist name Elsa, which means the French don’t cotton to their civilians being held and forced to watch a decapitation on video. Soon, Kovax (Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamonds”), the commander of an elite special forces unit, is dispatched into the mountains of Pakistan to rescue our damsel. He brings along his buddy Lucas (Denis Ménochet, “Inglourious Basterds”) and freshly minted sniper Elias (Raphaël Personnaz). But getting Elsa out of the Taliban’s clutches proves easier than escaping the country, and soon Kovax and his small band of elite fighters are chased across the Pakistan mountains as they attempt to hump it into Afghanistan and safety. Yup, it’s a twisted world we live in when Afghanistan signals safety.
Co-written and directed by Stéphane Rybojad, “Special Forces” is a pretty damn impressive war movie, especially considering that this is Rybojad’s first feature length film. He certainly doesn’t show the inexperience, and the movie is packed with wild, grueling gunfights and some nifty scenery. “Special Forces” moves along at a very brisk pace, with a few bursts of chit-chat every now and then, and of course you do get the prerequisite cut to scenes involving the squad’s head honcho (veteran Tchéky Karyo in an extended cameo) back at base trying to pull them out. But Rybojad pretty much gives up on that in favor of tracking the squad and their civilian cargo as they try to stay one step ahead of the Taliban forces doggedly pursuing them with what appears to be an inexhaustible legion of bullet fodder — er, I mean, “fighters”.
When a small unit of highly trained special forces operators meet a vastly superior number of foes consisting of old bearded men in their ’30s and ’40s armed with AKs and loose pajamas, it’s no surprise the guys who have spent thousands of hours training will usually win out. That’s the case here, with Kovax and his boys portrayed as pretty much super mofo badasses. Of course, they’re not invincible, and as the film progresses and the chase drags on, casualties start to mount for Kovax. The film is pretty unrelenting in its action, and action junkies will have a lot to chew on. It’s also a French movie, in case you missed that part, and if you’ve ever wondered if the French could do a, say, “Tears of the Sun” or any one of the special forces movies that Hollywood does so well, the answer is Yes. See “Special Forces” for an example.
STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION (2012)
Let’s put it this way: if you’re a fan of the “Starship Troopers” franchise, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t totally dig this original CG animated movie. It fits perfectly into the universe first brought to the big screen in all its squirting blood and severed body parts glory by Paul Verhoeven in 1997. The plot is pretty simple: a group of Troopers are tasked by Johnny Rico (Caspier Van Dien’s character, now a General) to locate a missing warship that has been commandeered by Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris’ character, still a royal psychic douche). The ship belongs to Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards’ character, still not giving Rico the time of day), and she wants it back. So the Troopers head off in search of Carmen’s ship, finds it, finds Carl, and finds loads of trouble because the bugs have control of the ship. Literally and figuratively, as it turns out.
“Starship Troopers: Invasion” takes place in the same universe as the Verhoven movie and the two subsequent direct-to-DVD sequels, but it introduces a bunch of new characters. I wouldn’t waste your time trying to get to know them, though, since they’re pretty much expendable. Though that didn’t stop director Shinji Aramaki (of “Appleseed” fame) and his writers from focusing a huge chunk of the film’s middle section on these would-be cannon fodder anyway. Not that it matters much. Once they locate Carmen’s wayward ship, it’s essentially one long bug fight, and good luck trying to tell who and who apart while they’re all wearing those identical combat armor. Heads get snipped, bug claws do bloody damage, and enough ammo is discharged to open a chain of ammo stores. The animation is hit and miss — it’s really good when everyone is in their combat armor and battling bugs, but when they’re out of uniform (literally, in some cases; “Invasion”, like Verhoeven’s movie, has gratuitous nudity to spare), it’s a bit awkward.
Despite the fact that Casper Van Dien is getting executive producer credit on this, he’s a no-show for the voice of Johnny Rico. I could understand Richards and Harris not bothering to come back, but it’s really odd that the producers couldn’t get Van Dien to at least do Rico’s voice. What exactly did he do to earn that executive producer credit, anyway? In any case, “Starship Troopers: Invasion” is a pretty solid sci-fi/war action movie. Fans of the series will dig it the most, of course, but if you’re just looking for a throwaway movie about guys in futuristic battle armor combating space bugs for about 90 minutes, you could do a lot worst.