The new film “Basic” reunites the dynamic pair John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson for the first time since “Pulp Fiction.” Although they are not on screen together for more than three minutes, it was great to see these two in the same movie again.
“Basic” begins with legendary Drill Instructor West (Jackson) leading a ranger training exercise in Panama. A conflict is immediately introduced as another helicopter goes out searching for the rangers lost in the jungle.
As the new helicopter flies overhead, the colonel inside looks down on his rangers using live fire and quickly rescues the survivors. From here, the colonel calls his friend Agent Hardy (Travolta) who is with the drug enforcement agency.
Hardy, an ex-ranger himself, drills the two surviving rangers (played by Brian Van Holt and Giovani Ribisi) looking for answers. Despite Lt. Osborne’s (Connie Nielsen) pleads for Hardy to light on the soldiers, Hardy uses unorthodox tactics and psychological games to pull the truth from these young men.
So what happened in the jungle? That is the question that needs to be solved. Why are bodies missing? Especially, why did West die and who killed him? And finally, among the craziness of double crosses, the answer seems to present itself.
But wait! This is an American made film and must hold to the unreasonable standard they have created for themselves, so there needs to be a twist. Twists are good in some cases, but it is often the sign of poor writing. Why would you need to twist the audience in the end? Do you really need to result to cheap tricks in order for someone to think it is a decent piece of writing?
One twist is good. In fact, it makes it enjoyable so the film is not completely predictable, but more than that can get confusing. Now we get into the script for “Basic” where it goes so far beyond the basic plot twists that it appears to devour itself.
Roger Ebert was quoted as saying, “by the end I wanted to do cruel and vicious things to the screenplay.” I did not go that far, but there are definitely some problems present here. The script ended up going so far into twisting the audience that it not only loses us, but it makes the past hour and a half unsubstantiated. Why did we watch what happened? And how is any of the action throughout the film now justified? The twists were so obscure that it tore the script and left large holes.
The acting was solid. Jackson is amazing, Travolta goes on and off again but is certainly on in this picture, Nielsen is adorable and this is another powerful performance by the talented Ribisi.
It was even entertaining. It was action packed and I enjoyed sitting through it. The problem is that it simply does not work and the cast did not seem to care at all. I would recommend you rent this film only to boggle your mind and hopefully you can write to me answering some questions I have.
Starring: John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Giovani Ribisi and Taye Diggs.
Directed By: John McTiernan
What You Need To Know: so many twists that it ends up devouring itself.
FINAL GRADE: C.