A review of “Basic” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for violence, language

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

 

 

Tired of CNN’s perpetual war footage? Check out an ace performance by John Travolta --- the only thing going for this clumsy military thriller that will undoubtedly benefit from its perfectly timed release date.

Travolta plays true to form as ex-Army Ranger turned DEA agent Tom Hardy, a rogue ex-soldier and persuasive interrogator who’s called in to help investigate the mysterious disappearance of Sergeant Nathan West (co-“Pulp Fiction” alum Samuel L. Jackson).  Seems West and a group of elite Special Forces trainees were running exercises deep in the Panamanian jungle, and only a pair of them returned alive.

West has a history of inspiring hatred in his ranks, and Hardy (who has the appropriate friends in low places) is determined to wrest the truth out of the survivors. One of whom is the gay son (Giovanni Ribisi as Kendall) of a high-profile Joint Chiefs of Staff official, whose eager confession is laden with motive and intent.  Kendall’s story completely contradicts his fellow survivor’s, with the accurate facts themselves peeking out through an opaque veil of gritty flashbacks told from relentless points-of-view (a technique employed both smarter and tauter in Ed Zwick’s Desert Storm drama “Courage Under Fire”).

Add to the confusion military police Captain (and potential love interest) Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen), whose skittish apprehension about relinquishing control of the interrogation to the controversial Hardy is clearly mired in physical attraction.  Nielsen and Travolta’s chemistry generates all the heat of a baby hibachi, sapping the energy out of each and every collective scene.

Baffling backstory of dastardly deeds performed under the auspices of the shady base hospital (aka Cocaine Central) inspires dramatic potential, but stupid scripting relies on a stringy mass of military clichés (“This is Panama; throw a rock in any direction and you’ll find three cartels”).  Lies pile upon deceptions and deceptions upon artifice, rendering the final twist less shocking than wearily predictable.  

Travolta’s caustic wit and swaggering bravado melds into a brand of sit-up-and-take-notice playacting that screams star-power.  His ultra-brief screen time with Jackson positively crackles with vigor, but it’s too little too late.