As part of his ongoing desire to rule the world, Vince McMahon and his WWE conglomerate have gotten into the competitive world of...film production. That's right; using the current stars of his wrestling regime, and matching them up with projects that fit their perceived public personality, this cinematic strategy has borne out two recent releases. The spring of 2006 saw the sloppy slasher hackneyed horror film See No Evil, featuring Glen "Kane" Jacobs. It was not a hit. Then during the annual awards love-in of the Fall and Winter, John Cena starred in the high octane thriller The Marine. A demented throwback to the mid-'80s style of action film, complete with loud explosions, lame dialogue, and laugh out loud humor (both unintentional and otherwise), it should have been a big box office winner. It wasn't. Perhaps on DVD, it will find the audience it deserves. For pure plotless pyrotechnics and loads of fiery fisticuffs, you can't beat this retro ridiculousness.
After he kicks the Koran out of some Arab terrorists – against direct orders, mind you - jingoistic jarhead John Triton is released from military service. Disheartened and unable to hold down a job (he lasts about four hours as a rent-a-cop), he feels abandoned by the country he served so well. When his smokin' trophy wife suggests they spend a few days in the Australian...oops, sorry, SOUTH CAROLINA mountains camping, Triton jumps at the chance. Unfortunately, they meet up with a group of diamond thieves who have just robbed a ritzy jewelry store and killed a few police officers along the way. More murders, and a bullet-riddled getaway car later, the leader of these merry mobsters, some sleaze named Rome, decides to hijack Triton's SUV – with his woman still inside. This doesn't sit well with our special ops spouse and he goes on a one man payback patrol to pummel the bad guys. As they make their escape through the Australian...oops, sorry, SOUTH CAROLINA swamps, the villains must avoid being spotted by pursuing agents. But the FBI, DEA, CIA and a determined detective (with some sketchy motives) are no match for the trained killing efficiency that is John Triton – THE MARINE!
Sometimes, you just need to see sh*t blow up REAL GOOD! You want to watch bullets fly, cars carelessly chase each other, and experience the brain purging power of actors carefully choreographed in bone crunching and face smashing fisticuffs. As an artform, the cinema can be awfully snotty. It can ladle on the self-important arrogance like an Ivy League law professor. In the world of filmic physics, every holier than thou piece of independent drivel derived directly from some slacker's soul searching diary requires an equal and opposite bit of mindless entertainment fluff – and The Marine fits the bill quite nicely. Taking it's cues from the Commando school of shoot-em ups, and filled with enough giganormous fireballs to make flame-lovers foam with demented delight, this guaranteed guilty pleasure of a movie may seem like seriously stupid macho mediocrity. But within the current motion picture malaise, this high concept conundrum where narratives must be nuanced to appeal to the widest demographic possible, it's refreshing to see a story that sticks with the silent film facets of heroes and villains. All our bloated ex-Terminator Robert Patrick requires as heinous hood Rome is a twistable handle bar moustache and a couple of orphanage deeds to foreclose on, and this post-modern Snidely Whiplash would be an instant evil icon.
Yet perhaps the biggest question to be addressed here is whether or not John Cena, incredibly popular WWE champion and all around brawny beefcake, has a career in front of the camera. Is he a decent action hero, or should he stick to slamming other musclemen to the square circle matt? The answer, oddly enough, is yes. Cena does have a kind of Arnold Schwarzeneggar as supermodel slickness that renders his physicality perfect for this kind of film. Indeed, he makes a far more appealing man of action than some of the slighter, more sensitive types being tossed at the camera (not including the great Jason Statham). Granted, when actually trying to emote, Cena's real puppy dog personality comes shining through, goofy geniality replacing the stern, steroid-stoked glare that usually accompanies a stellar Smackdown appearance. But put him in a situation where balled up fists have to pummel personnel, where guns must blaze with projectile pumping efficiency, when Herculean determination is required to overcome a near impossible manmade mission, and Cena scores. Perhaps it's his overworked musculature, or permanent granite jawline, but give this guy a weapon the size of a small cow, paint him up like a camouflaged kabuki, and set him loose on a group of American hating Arabs holding knives to the throats of our honorable service men and women and he's Superfly TNT! While he probably won't be challenging Leo and Matt and Edward for Oscar accolades, Cena definitely has a future career as a scaled back superhero.
As for the rest of the cast and crew, it's funny to see Patrick playing Rome. Getting up in years – and pounds – the actor understands this kind of film, and never allows his performance to be too serious or shoddy. He plays it perfectly – part kitsch, part cold-blooded killer. While his posse are mostly nameless nonentities, Patrick has enough presence to make up for the lack of compelling companions. Another surprise is TV director John Bonito. No great shakes when it comes to moments of expositional establishment, give him a couple of cars and a roadway loaded with construction and he can craft one Hell of a chase. Similarly, he obviously understands the Farm Film Report concept of detonations. When a gas station explodes, or a bayou shack blows up, Bonito goes almost nuclear with his stellar stunt spectacle. Red hot fire fills the sky as the inferno swirls and swells into a ball so unbelievable that your eyes have to adjust to its destructive majesty. Naturally, Cena is usually somewhere in the foreground, his all around Americanism capable of avoiding the scorching effects of the conflagration with ease. If you're looking for realism in your intense, tripwire thriller, if you demand your action follow the laws of logic and logistics, then do yourself a favor and avoid The Marine. It may be implausible, but it's also a great deal of gratuitous fun.
Presented by 20th Century Fox in a Rated/Unrated edition (meaning the original PG-13 version is here, as well as a new version augmented with harsher language and a few more snippets of blood and ballistics), the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks terrific. The image has colors that are bright and clear, and the details are easily discernible and direct. Director of Photography David Eggby (Pitch Black) understands the genre well, and delivers a wonderful optical experience, making even the most extreme violence seem visually lush and rich.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix provided for The Marine is excellent, especially when it comes to explosions and other directional action elements. Indeed, the speakers really come to life whenever the cast goes chaotic. Even in the quietest moments, dialogue is delivered distinctly, and the various musical cues – including the new post-millennial "Bad to the Bone", White Zombie's "More Human Than Human" – have a distinct sonic power.
Like a crash combination of DVD supplements and WWE infomercials, the added content on The Marine is rather weak. We do learn that the film was made in Australia (that explains why South Carolina looks like The Matrix's metropolis) and that the stunts took a lot of careful coordinating to get right. Still, the overall Making-Of is more of a puffy publicity piece, and the John Cena Featurettes contain more of the same mindless EPK garbage. Much of this feels like McMahon style self-promotion, a two minute peak of Cena playing golf all splash and very little substance. We are also privy to the Premiere at Camp Pendleton, and a collection of tie-in trailers used as part of the weekly WWE previews for the film. All in all, it's a rather paltry collection of context. It's too bad Cena and Bonito couldn't sit down for a full length audio commentary. Part of the fun in a film like this is listening to director and actor defend their cinematic decisions.
Here's the bottom line – either you like this kind of shameless, slam-bang silliness or your eyes immediately roll back in their sockets at the mere mention of the label "action film". And it's not hard to see why audiences now disrespect the previously viable genre. The '80s more or less reinvented – and then murdered – the high octane thriller, creating the creaky formulas and stuffy stereotypes that plague the category to this very day. Still, when they are embraced, when they are recognized as routine and then simply polished up perfectly as they are in The Marine, the results are ridiculous – and resplendent. They can tweak your cinematic shorthairs in a way that reminds you of how plainly enjoyable a movie can be. That is why this universally panned effort actually deserves a Recommended rating. At some point in the last two decades, the vaunted viewer has gotten too self-important and ersatz sophisticated to recognize this kind of old school bullets and brawn. There's no shame in accepting The Marine for what it is. We could all use an entertainment enema every now and then.
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