The film is based on John Griesemer's novel "No One Thinks of Greenland," which itself was greatly inspired by "Catch-22" and "MASH." Set in 1959, the book dealt with the aftermath of the Korean war; for the movie, the timeframe has been shifted to 1979 and its post-Vietnam haze.
Corporal Rudy Spruance (Jason Biggs) has been unceremoniously dumped at a desolate army base in the Middle of Nowhere, Greenland. He was supposed to be dropped off in Hawaii, but such snafus are the military way. The base commander, Col. Woolwrap (Jeremy Northam) insists Spruance is a private named Pederson, and no amount of reality will change his mind. And so, stuck at the top of the world, Spruance/Pederson is left to roam his new home in a sort of trance, confused by the bizarre ways things get done, concerned about Woolwrap's emperor-like reign over his men, intrigued by the mysterious, top secret hospital nearby.
As a story, "Guy X" is a bit of a mess. Spruance's budding romance with the lovely Sgt. Teale (Natascha McElhone) doesn't quite add up to much, and while his growing friendship with one of the hospital's classified patients, the titular unnamed soldier (Michael Ironside), fares better, this angle seems to be pushing for a conspiracy thriller that never plays out. Much is made of Guy X's wartime past and a possible connection to Col. Woolwrap, and careful plot points find Spruance trying to blow the lid off the hospital while outwitting the enigmatic government agent on the scene. But these moments just don't pay out. As a film, "Guy X" is too laid back to build up enough energy for this sort of suspense.
But that laid back approach is also the movie's best feature. "Guy X" succeeds in creating a languid, almost hypnotic portrait of go-nowhere, do-nothing peacetime military life. The soldiers are constantly struggling to find ways of dealing with perpetual isolation: they collectively chant along with the dialogue from whatever movie they get stuck watching for months on end; they throw wild parties celebrating the end of summer; they get as high as possible. Greenland's arctic nature leaves them in permanent daylight for months on end, and permanent night after that. Both seasons drive these soldiers insane.
When the movie kicks back and studies these people dealing with encroaching madness, it's a low-key marvel of curiosity, with everyman Spruance standing in for us. We marvel at the ease with which these characters accept every "fubar" turn of events. Biggs handles the material with exceptional ease, and he does a fine job of carrying us through the clunkier aspects of the story. The supporting cast is equally compelling.
But the screenplay, from John Paul Chapple and Steve Attridge, keeps pushing for that military satire - Woolwrap's own madness, the hospital conspiracy - but never really clicks. The commentary is always too vague. (Could the problem be that the writers and director Saul Metzstein are all British? Does this movie need a definitively American voice criticizing itself in order to truly work?)
"Guy X" tries to work up outrage for its most sinister revelations, yet there's an apathy that never lifts. Send this movie back thirty-some years, and it'd surely get reworked with great anger and wild antiauthoritarian abandon. Here, however, it sinks under an unspoken politeness. And satire can be many things, but "nice" isn't one of them.
Video & Audio
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (the format is completely mislabeled on the DVD cover, by the way), "Guy X" looks pretty solid, with the film's rich Greenland landscapes contrasting well with the intentionally drab interiors. Far less successful are the muddy soundtracks (in your choice of 5.1 and 2.0) that frequently keep the dialogue too low, sometimes downright muffled. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Just a preview for the film's video release, plus a collection of trailers for other First Look titles. Another set of previews plays as the disc loads; you can skip over them if you choose.
After a minor run on the festival circuit, "Guy X" sat on studio shelves for a over two years before getting tossed aside with a direct-to-video release. While it doesn't deserve such a fate (for all its faults, it is a decent little effort), it's hardly memorable fare, and its presentation on this disc is sorely lacking. Rent It.