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Basic (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary; A Writer's Perspective; 'Director’s Design' featurette; Trailers; TV and radio spots.

THE publicity boasts that Basic marks the first pairing of John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson since their winning double act in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction - yet anyone anticipating a re-run of that successful formula is likely to be sorely disappointed.

Basic is an altogether different affair, a noisy military whodunit with its eye on classics such as The Usual Suspects and Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, which consistently fails to realise any of its potential.

And as for the central pairing, they hardly share any scenes together, being kept apart for most of the film, to the detriment of all concerned.

Travolta stars as ex-Army Ranger turned DEA agent, Tom Hardy, who is called out to a military base after a training exercise goes wrong, leaving several soldiers dead, including their highly-respected, yet hard-as-nails sergeant, Nathan West.

Teaming up with Connie Nielsen’s ambitious Lt Julia Osborne, Hardy then sets about questioning the two lone survivors, Giovanni Ribisi’s badly-wounded Kendall, and Brian Van Holt’s Pike - intent on finding the truth, as well as what happened to the bodies of the dead, which were presumably blown away in a hurricane.

So far, so good, you would think, yet having established its intriguing premise, Basic then sets about ripping it apart almost as ruthlessly as the hurricane which rages for most of the proceedings.

The result is a mess - an inflated, overly gung-ho military thriller that thinks it is a lot more intricate than it really is, and which squanders the talents of a decent cast instead.

Travolta, who has been down this path before with the likes of The General’s Daughter, seems content to ham it up, while Jackson, when on-screen, does nothing but shout, coming across as a hopelessly OTT caricature of just about every OTT drill commander ever committed to screen.

Nielsen, on the other hand, is quite simply irritating as the foil to Hardy, in what proves to be a completely thankless role.

But none of the cast is helped out by John McTiernan’s loose direction, which plays up the machismo and testosterone, without really making you, or allowing you, to care for the characters.

James Vanderbilt’s twisting script provides plenty of red herrings, as the survivors’ stories change, but there is only so much mileage to be gained from watching the same scenes played out several times over, with only slight variations.

By the time the truth emerges, you’re likely to be past caring, while the shock twist itself is not so much an act of daring bravado designed to excite, rather than a trick too far, more likely to annoy and provoke the question, ‘why’?

The same question should be asked of Basic’s stars, for in the final analysis, this sucks.

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