THE MARINE (2006)
“The Marine” kicks off our “Marine” trilogy with WWE wrestler John Cena (or WWE Superstar John Cena, as they prefer to be called — I think it’s in their contracts or something) as a badass Marine. How badass is Cena’s John Triton? So badass that when we first meet him, dude is saving captured soldiers from an army of Al Qaeda terrorists, having somehow infiltrated the place all by his little lonesome. Apparently he’s some kind of super duper Marine special forces something-or-rather. I had no idea there were such things. But when his higher ups tell him to wait, Triton decides to go ahead and do what badass Marines do — he singlehandedly saves the day. For his troubles, our hero gets kicked out of the Corp. Talk about no respect! Have no fear, though, at least Triton gets to go home to his hot wife (Kelly Carlson). Unfortunately, soon the pair are running afoul of a robbery crew led by Rome (Robert Patrick), who absconds with said hot wife, and, as they say, shenanigans ensue.
“The Marine” is the product of WWE Films being convinced that John Cena could become The Next Big Action Hero. The film features a generic action movie script, and includes uninspired locales, though I suppose much of the budget was saved for the film’s huge explosions. There’s about a 30-minute stretch where absolutely nothing happens, and the screenwriters must have realized it’s been a while since Cena has punched someone, so we get a completely arbitrary action scene where Cena encounters a couple of meathead criminals in the swamp. Oh yeah, most of the film takes place in the swamp, where Rome trudges endlessly with his small crew of brain-dead criminals (including a pre-“Spartacus” Manu Bennett, who looks absolutely bemused throughout). Rome claims he wants to keep the hot wife around as a potential hostage, but I think he just wants to get into those tight jeans of hers.
Patrick has a ball in the film, cracking jokes and indulging in “Terminator” gags like a man who knows he’s in a schlocky action movie designed purely to jump start John Cena’s movie career. He so clearly embraces his role as the film’s big-named heavy that he earns every cent they paid him to show up. The film is actually very funny (intentionally so, I might add), with some hilarious lines, including one character’s camp story. Cena doesn’t do too bad in his first big leading man role, and it’s telling that he has very little dialogue throughout the movie. Then again, I don’t suppose punching, shooting, and bodyslamming people is any different than his day job as a wrestler. (Well, the shooting people part is probably new.) The film features an absurd number of ridiculous explosions and people running, leaping, and at one point, driving a vehicle through a series of them without nary a scratch. I would love to put a YouTube video together with just exploding scenes from the movie. It would probably run about 20 minutes. But I’m too lazy, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
THE MARINE 2 (2009)
While 2006’s “The Marine” didn’t quite make John Cena the Next Big Action Star and it wasn’t what you would call a runaway hit, it apparently did well enough that the folks at WWE decided to move on ahead with a sequel. Enter “The Marine 2”, which stars Ted DiBiase (Cena’s fellow WWE wrestler) as a completely different character — this time a Marine sniper name Joe. But like Cena’s Marine in the first movie, just because Joe is a jarhead, it doesn’t necessarily preclude him from doing stuff like sniping terrorists in city streets and the like. After one of his jobs goes badly, Joe decides it’s time for a little R&R, and wouldn’t you know it, his hot blonde wife Robin (Lara Cox) has a job with a douchey millionaire that takes them to a grand resort in a Southeastern Asian country (if they ever named the country, I missed it). Our couple are enjoying their time at the beach when a local terrorist cell led by “Star Wars'” Temuera Morrison decides to invade, take hostages, and before you can say “Holy John McClane!”, we have ourselves a “Die Hard in a Resort” movie.
Well, eventually, anyway. It actually takes Joe two times to finally do some real damage. Fortunately for him, Morrison’s endless supply of Asian terrorists are what you would call — what’s the word? Oh right, morons. Despite playing the heavy, Morrison is mostly absent from the film, and it’s not until the final 20 or so minutes that he takes charge, including an absolutely hilarious fight with DiBiase that includes Morrison chasing him with a gun. Besides the abundance of gun violence, “The Marine 2” features a couple of nifty action sequences, one a hand-to-hand fight between DiBiase and a pair of terrorists, and there’s a pretty impressive action scene early in the movie involving DiBiase wading through multiple bad guys. The rest of the film is fine for direct-to-DVD fare — nothing special, but probably worth the cheap rental. And while you’re never going to mistaken DiBiase for Bruce Willis, he actually makes for a decent John McClane type, mostly because he’s not a big pile of muscle like Cena. In fact, ol Joe loses almost as many fights as he wins in the movie, but true to the McClane motto, he never gives up.
“The Marine 2” is directed by Roel Reine, who is sort of the go-to guy for direct-to-DVD sequels these days, having also directed direct-to-DVD sequels to “The Scorpion King”, “The Lost Boys”, and not one, but two “Death Race” movies. And get this, he’s directing another direct-to-DVD sequel, this time “12 Rounds: Reloaded”, the sequel to a theatrical film starring John Cena. (It will star, in case you couldn’t have already guessed, another WWE wrestler.) Compared to the first movie, “The Marine 2” probably has a smaller budget (there is noticeably less ridiculous shit gratuitously blowing up everywhere, and the one big explosion in the film was mostly CG), but it’s actually a better movie despite having a pretty bland and uninteresting villain. It’s too bad they couldn’t have saved Robert Patrick for the sequel. On the plus side, Merle Dixon plays a totally non-scumbag ex-Army soldier who lends our Marine a hand. Or two.
THE MARINE 3: HOMEFRONT (2013)
“The Marine 3: Homefront” once again features a main character who is a Marine, but one that has no connections to the two previous Marines in the series. This time around, it’s WWE wrestler Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin, who plays Jake, a jarhead returning to his small home town for a little R&R to get away from all that war stuff. Jake’s homecoming is initially a source of goodwill with his two sisters (one of them played by Ashley Bell of “The Last Exorcism” films) and his childhood buddy, now the town sheriff. Things turn sour for our returning hero when Neal McDonough (“Band of Brothers”), playing a local militia fanatic with explosive plans, takes Bell hostage after she witnesses him executing someone. It’s up to Jake to save the day. Well, it’s either that or leave it all up to the Feds, and as we all know, Feds in action movies tend to be, well, dumb as rocks.
If “The Marine 2” missed out on having a decent villain, at least “Homefront” makes up for that with the vastly talented McDonough. Unfortunately for all involved, they’re stuck in a pretty bad movie, the plot for which looks to have consisted of writer/director Scott Wiper being told: “Hey, Scott, here are some leftover change we found in our studio couch and a rusty old boat we stumbled across one day! Do something with them!” And voila, you have a haphazardly thrown together action movie that clunks its way through poorly conceived and directed action beats, all in service of one of the most anti-climatic finales I’ve seen in a long time. Even compared to the low, low standards of direct-to-DVD sequels, “Homefront” falls woefully short. And apparently Wiper decided to switch filming gears about halfway through, so while the rest of the movie looks cinematic, the major action sequences look like something shot on one of those HD video cameras. The sudden shift in aesthetics is odd, to say the least, and nauseating for those of us prone to seasickness.
The funny thing is, “Homefront” looks and feels like a completely different movie for its first 30 minutes, which follows Mizanin (who actually does a pretty decent job) trying to re-adjust to life as a civilian (albeit a temporary one). His clashes with his sisters are a tad overcooked, but they do give the film a dramatic edge that movies like these don’t usually bother with. Unfortunately once the action kicks into gear all of that goes out the window in favor of poorly choreographed gunfights, brain-dead movie FBI agents doing brain-dead movie FBI agent things, and a plot that takes unbelievably great liberties with logic. Neal McDonough actually tries here, and it’s too bad the film just completely wastes him. By the way, Michael Eklund plays a villain in the movie, and “Homefront” is something of a reunion for he and Ashley Bell, the two having co-starred (and did battle) in “The Day”. You should rent that movie instead of wasting time with this turkey.