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American Soldiers

ThinkFilm // R // May 16, 2006
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted May 10, 2006 | E-mail the Author
"American Soldiers" is a film about the Iraq war, shot on location in Ontario, using Canadian cast and crew. Anyone else find this as funny as I do?

The film comes to us from Sidney J. Furie, the director who began his career helming such well-received works as "The Ipcress File" and "Lady Sings the Blues" before finding his way into the sad realm of Golan-Globus and their Cannon Films, where he delivered such gems as three of the "Iron Eagle" films and his magnum opus, "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace." Furie has since gone on to juggle work in television (including episodes of "V.I.P." and something called "18 Wheels of Justice"), direct-to-video fare ("Partners In Action," "Detention"), and Rodney Dangerfield projects ("Ladybugs," "My 5 Wives"). Needless to say, when you see Furie's name pop up in the credits, having Hamilton, Ontario, stand in for the Middle East is the least of your worries.

To be fair, it's not as much a train wreck as it may seem - it's more clumsy and boring than it is inept and offensive. There are many chances for this film to dive into exploitive territory, but Furie and screenwriter/fellow DTV vet Greg Mellott ("Direct Action," "Black Point") back off, instead presenting a fairly innocuous, if highly idiotic, war actioner.

The film opens with a title card informing us that April 2004 was the deadliest month in Iraq since the official end of the war a year earlier - a statistic that now seems a bit out of date. (It's surprising that this opening statement was not amended, considering that the film, rushed into production, was constantly being rewritten during production in order to keep up with the news. It was also finished in May 2005 but sat unreleased for a full year - plenty of time for the filmmakers to add a few quick changes, yes?) The idea behind the film is that we'll be watching one unit as it makes through one of those April days.

And so we get a parade of clich├ęd war movie characters scrambling about in an effort to return to their base. Call them the Army's unluckiest platoon, as with every step they make, they're confronted by Canadian extras dressed up as insurgents who keep popping up out of nowhere to shoot missiles at them. None of it makes much sense, as we're watching some cheap action flick from the 80s retooled with a handful of modern references thrown in here and there. Sure, we get IEDs and car bombs and such, but we get a whole lot more in the random explosions and generic Muslims with grenade launchers field - stuff you would've found in the "Delta Force" movies of two decades ago. Furie might be attempting to create a tribute to the ordinary fighting soldier, but he relies too often on familiar material that simply doesn't fit.

Furie and Mellott try their best to make an Iraq War equivalent of "Black Hawk Down," what with the gritty, dusty photography and the swooning Zimmer-esque musical score from Varouje Hagopian and the somber tribute to the real-life fallen soldiers. But it's all so second-rate, with cheap action theatrics replacing honest emotion, drama, and tension.

(More importantly, very little effort is made to get Hamilton looking like Iraq. Street signs are still visible in the background, buildings look ridiculously inauthentic, and the cramped shooting style - framed to avoid revealing local landmarks around the set - only enhances the cheapness of it all.)

Mellott can't even craft a decent character here, and so all the soldiers inevitably wind up being indistinguishable from one another. How, then, can we care when a character's killed off, if our entire knowledge of the unit is that there's this one guy, and here's this other guy, and don't forget about the black guy. There's one actor, playing a sergeant, if I recall, who had a laughably fake southern accent. That's the extent of characterization on display. (Sure, we get one overlong scene that hopes to detail the boredom of war, with the cast standing around, talking about home, waiting for something to happen. But it's too boring, and it goes on far too long, that you'll tune out before you get to know any of the characters beyond their superficial presentations.)

"American Soldiers" ultimately becomes a cheap knock-off of an honest war movie. Its characters are one-dimensional, its action uninvolving and unbelievable, its direction weak, its dialogue ridiculous. This is a modern war movie dumbed down for people who still like random explosions and generic bad guys.

The DVD

Video


Taking into account the intentional grit and dustiness of the image, the anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) image is far more impressive than a movie this knuckleheaded should be.

Audio

The same goes for the soundtrack, offered in Dolby 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. Both tracks are effective in delivering both the action intensity and the quieter, dialogue-heavy moments.

Extras

A 25-minute behind-the-scenes featurette gives us plenty of on-set interviews with the cast, all of whom are too new to the business to attempt to badmouth the production; it's the typical parade of "it was great working with so-and-so" patter. These interviews are rounded out with footage of several action sequences being filmed. We then see the final scenes as they appear in the film, scenes that often play on far too long for such a featurette and seem to exist only to pad the running time of the disc's only main bonus feature. Presented in 1.33:1 format, with footage from the movie shown in letterboxed widescreen.

Also included is the film's trailer as well as a "trailer gallery," that delivers previews for "Guardian of the Realm" and "The Zodiac" (although with only two trailers, is it really a "gallery?"). Those two trailers also play as the disc starts up, although you can skip past them with your remote. (Note for those who keep track of such things: The "Soldiers" and "Zodiac" trailers are in anamorphic widescreen, while "Guardian" is flat letterboxed.)

Final Thoughts

"American Soldiers" is as harmless as it is brainless. The lack of politicizing may be welcomed by some, but the overall dopiness of the material suggests this one gets tossed right into the Skip It pile.
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