Friday, 20 April 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Navy Seals (dir. Lewis Teague, 1990)

During a rescue mission in the Middle East, a Navy SEAL (Michael Beihn) discovers a consignment of Stinger missiles but prioritises the mission over destroying them. When a terrorist group starts using the missiles, he becomes obsessed with hunting them down and destroying them before more innocent people are killed.

This movie comes from an era of action movies that I love, with certain qualifications. When you watch an 80s action movie, you expect a certain level of sexism, racism and right-wing paranoia underpinning the whole thing. Navy SEALS makes two mistakes which mean these elements are front and centre, which makes it hard to watch.

The first problem is that as an action movie, Navy SEALS is not good enough to take as a brainless action movie. Director Lewis Teague never has a handle on how to set up or shoot a set piece. Wide shots are from the wrong angle, the lighting is too bright and the editing is just clumsy.

The first action sequence, in which our 'heroes' smash into the bad guys' hideout and blow them away is ridiculously confusing. We start with a tight shot of a SEAL crashing through a window, followed by a series of clumsily edited shots showing the SEALS shooting the villains. All this action could have been covered in a wide shot that allowed the viewer to get a sense of the geography, but instead it is over-cut and shot from angles that do not allow the viewer to piece it together.

Later sequences, such as the SEALS rescuing a boatload of hostages, and the finale in Beirut, are better, but suffer from a lack of obvious stakes. The big problem is that - despite my plot synopsis - the movie does not really have a clear plot.

We get introduced to the villain and his missiles in the first mission, but then it takes the rest of the movie for this threat to really crystallise. We never see the missiles used on anything, just a passing news report, and the missions in between never feel that connected to the central threat.

And then there are the stateside scenes...

I mean, what is going on here? It feels like an attempt to make these guys feel like friends ala Top Gun, but they either end up coming off as clowns (like the above clip) or straight-up high school bullies. Charlie Sheen is meant to be the wild man of this movie, but his schtick boils down to racial slurs and sleazy sexual come-ons. In this respect the movie feels a little more believable to how Americans regard the rest of the world, but in terms of creating sympathetic action heroes, the movie fails hard.

Joanne Whalley-Kilmer plays a journalist with contacts in the Middle East who Curran romances in an effort to figure out where the missiles are. This subplot is the point where I start to wonder whether the filmmakers were sending up the Seals as trigger-happy psychopaths. Curran takes his 'date' on a tour of a Seals training course. He stages a surprise ambush on her with his buddies and the terrified woman runs away - somehow this scene brings the couple closer. Ugh.

You can say most 80s action movies don't treat female characters well. Navy SEALS really goes out of its way to make its major female character feel like an intellectual obstruction to its heroes' violent pragmatism.

The movie was made at a point where awareness of minorities was growing more mainstream, yet the film's sense of humour is the same as your drunk uncle at Christmas. This movie thinks women are dumb and all the brown people are either psychopaths or extras from a Mad Max movie. To be honest, that is not too far from Commando or Cobra, but the people behind those movies seem to recognise their primary mission is to work as dumb action movies. Navy SEALS has pretensions to be something better than it is, which makes its politics harder to take.

I can see why Navy SEALS has a cult following, I was kind of bored through the whole thing. Boiling it down, it is just not good enough on a pure action level, which prevents it from qualifying as a guilty pleasure.

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