Supposedly based on real life events, Boot Camp stars Mila Kunis as a rebellious young woman named Sophie. Her father has passed away and she misses him quite a bit and while her mother has remarried, she's none too keen on her step-father (Serge Houde) at all. In fact, you could say that Sophie goes out of her way to make his life difficult, and once he decides that he's had enough of her attitude, she's shipped off to a correctional facility in Fiji. Dubbed the ASAP - Advanced Serenity Achievement Program - this social rehabilitation curriculum for troubled teens is lead by Norman Hail (Peter Stormare), a supposed doctor with some rather serious stability issues of his own.
Things seem off from the moment Sophia arrives on the island to start her rehabilitation. While it's all well and good for the kids to undergo therapy and even some tough love scenarios, the program is run more like a prison camp than an actual psychiatric program. They take away all of the kids' jewelry, and chain them to massive cement blocks on the beach where they leave them overnight to 'teach them how to be strong and follow the rules.' As Sophia and the other kids, lead by a her boyfriend Ben (Gregory Smith), who has snuck into the camp posing as a drug addict, resist and revolt Hail's tactics become increasingly more brazen and bizarre to the point where the kids are basically subjected to torture. Sophia and Ben try to escape on their own but they're recaptured and Hail and his right hand man/thug Logan (Tygh Runyan) turn up the heat to teach them a lesson, and all the while some of the kids he's in charge of are turning up dead.
Grim and dark, Boot Camp is stronger stuff than you might expect from a Mila Kunis vehicle. Best known for her comedic work on TV series like That Seventies Show and Family Guy and for her feature work in Forgetting Sarah Marshal, you don't really expect to see her in more dramatic fare. Sure, she popped up in Max Payne but that's not a film that's played nearly as straight as this one and she does surprisingly well here cast against type. Relying less on her sex appeal and more on her actual acting ability, Kunis is entirely convincing in her role - she's saucy enough that you can understand her step-father's frustration with her early on and smart enough that you can buy her actions in the last half of the movie as she and Ben try and figure their way out of the camp. An interesting aspect of the film that really helps to make it work is Peter Stormare's performance as Doctor Hill. While it would have been simple to portray him as your basic sadistic prison warden type, his character is fleshed out a lot more than that. Some interesting revelations about his background do imply that while his tactics are questionable and his hired help at times despicable, he does sincerely want what he thinks is best for these kids.
Making use of some very gritty and grainy camera work, this is a dark looking film with a color palette that accurately represents the bleak aesthetic of the film's storyline. Despite the fact that the picture is set in Fiji, we don't see the beaches and various natural landscapes as the vacation destination you might expect, rather, the climate is portrayed as harsh and unforgiving. A storm rolls in at one point, thrashing the camp and a few shots of the beach covered in wood and debris compliment the story, the climate almost symbolizing and mirroring what the camp's subjects are having to deal with in the film.
At times sincerely unsettling, Boot Camp turns out to be a surprisingly intelligent and thought provoking picture. It mixes the more horrific elements with some intelligent dramatic scripting and strong performances and uses its locations very effectively. It's not a perfect film by any stretch - there is a certain element of predictability to all of this and a couple of times it feels like its wallowing in excess - but it's tense enough that it holds your attention and it actually all comes together and works quite well.
The test disc sent for review does not represent final product as it has a FOX watermark in the lower right hand corner of the picture. It's hard to evaluate the quality of what you'll be buying in stores when you can't see it. That said, the test disc looks bad. It's riddled with compression artifacts and macro-blocking throughout playback. The transfer is presented in its original 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, but hopefully the properly pressed DVDs look better than what has been sent out for review...
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is well constructed with some nice rear channel action and surround usage helping to keep us involved. The more intense scenes, of which there are a few in the last half of the movie, have more activity than some of the dialogue based scenes but that's not a bad thing. The score sounds good, at times sounding quite multi-layered, while dialogue remains pretty crisp throughout the movie. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Aside from a chapter selection option, a static menu screen, and a trailer for Dragonball Evolution this release is barebones, it doesn't even contain a trailer or a still gallery. Ideally we'd have learned more about the supposed true events that this film is based on, but that didn't happen.
Boot Camp is a surprisingly intense film with some legitimately disturbing moments. Kunis proves that she's more than just another pretty face by delivering a believable enough performance but really, it's hard to recommend a barebones disc, particularly one where the transfer quality is up in the air, which is the case here. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.