Saturday, March 29, 2003

Basic (IMDB) (Netflix)
A U.S. Army Ranger training mission run by a sadistic Sergeant (Samuel L. Jackson) goes seriously awry, with guys shooting each other and at least one soldier dead. When it's over, nobody's talking, least of all to Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen), so they bring in an unsavory DEA agent (John Travolta) to dope out the situation. Everybody's got their own version of the story when they finally do open up, and it's not that intellectualized subjective reality nonsense—people are just plain lying—and Nielsen's not happy about being subordinated to a cop under investigation for taking bribes.

Lots of story angles, and they're all played hard and fast, creating a fog of audience confusion that says "let go of trying to understand the plot, but hang on for the banter and romantic byplay." The technical advisor should be brought up on Dereliction of Verisimilitude charges for allowing berets to be worn by the characters during training ops and letting a woman be a Ranger (a line that has yet to be crossed). Shining through the many holes, however, are entertaining performances by Giovanni Ribisi as one of the dissemblers and by Nielsen, whose character rises pretty forcefully to the occasion. On balance, though, often frustrating and mostly forgettable escapism, which ain't all bad.