This is insane! F@*k it!
I suspect most people clicking on this review of Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U. are already fans of Mail Call, The History Channel series that premiered in 2002, starring Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey discussing the various weapons, vehicles, and equipment of our armed forces. The series, one of History Channel's most highly rated shows, is both informative and hilarious, because Ermey is, well...Ermey. A Marine D.I. through and through, Ermey may also be a well-respected character actor in Hollywood, but in Mail Call, he's full caliber "Gunny," the avowed enemy of watermelons (the target of choice when firing off weapons) and the sneering, screaming host who can barely conceal his contempt for the viewers who write in, requesting information about a particular weapon or military procedure.
The series is simple. Ermey reads off emails and letters sent in by viewers, asking for information on weapons and equipment used throughout the U.S. Armed Services' history. Ermey then instructs the viewer - in amusing D.I. fashion, complete with cable-o.k.'d insults - in that particular piece of history, preferably if there's a demonstration involved. One episode Gunny will be riding around in an armored personnel carrier, and in the next he's wielding a French battle axe in full armor. It's a compulsively watchable show, squarely because Ermey is such an amusing host.
With Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U., the folks at The History Channel have provided we Mail Call fans with a fun hour of production snafus (military slang for "Situation Normal, All F@*ked Up") involved with putting on the series, as well as some "Best of" moments designed to fill out the hour. These "best of" moments make the title of this DVD a little misleading; it's really only about a half hour of bloopers, and to be honest, they're fairly tame (certainly not the kind of stuff the DVD producers claim will "NEVER" show up on TV). For the most part, the bloopers are piled up at the beginning of the DVD, and they largely consist of Ermey swearing like a true Marine every time he screws up his lines. And since it's Ermey, these flubs are pretty funny. For brief moments, he sounds just like the characters he played in The Boys in Company C and Full Metal Jacket, and that's worth the price of the disc alone.
But perhaps as a testament to the production expertise of the show, there's not that many big flubs to show except Ermey blowing his lines. There's a section on misfires from the various guns that failed to work during shooting, but even that section has to be padded out with clips of successful weapons demonstrations ("Let's make some fruit salad!"). Other sections feature "Gunny's Guest Stars," such as Copper the Horse, who hams it up for the camera even more than Ermey, and a poor Cub Scout who loses his lunch waiting for a camera take. There's a segment on "Mini-Lee," the R. Lee Ermey "Motivational" action figure who constantly harasses the hapless G.I. Joe; a "Motor Pool" segment, showing Ermey grinding gears on everything with wheels; and a "My Little Honey" section showing Ermey's favorite Jeep. Perhaps the funniest section of the disc comes last; the "Fruit Salad: Gunny Style!" segment that features Ermey in slow-motion, either blasting, chopping or stabbing watermelons in orgiastic abandon. That's a beautifully edited piece of comedy.
Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U. is probably just for fans of Mail Call or R. Lee Ermey; I'm not sure if others will get it, or appreciate the goofs if they're not familiar with his D.I. character or the series. But I could be wrong; my wife, who has never seen the show or any of his movies, sat down half way through, and was laughing in spite of her best efforts (to cover herself, she said it was "dumb" when she got up to leave - still laughing, though). And there are plenty of chances to laugh in Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U.. Big yoks come from Ermey in full medieval armor, knocked on the ground by his opponent, telling the camera quite seriously, "I wasn't ready yet;" Ermey making a hilarious face trying to get a fly off his nose; Ermey trying to pronounce "Peloponnesian" (which reminded me of his classic rap song featuring Ermey on the Full Metal Jacket soundtrack); when Ermey seems to be taking a phone call from his wife, telling him the washing machine is on the blink; or the various vulgar names he calls the viewers when he realizes how stupid their questions are after he reads them. It's a speedy hour, and if you're a fan of Ermey and Mail Call, Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U. is worth your time.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.