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"Windtalkers"

Directed by John Woo.
Written by John Rice and Joe Batteer.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Mark Ruffalo and Christian Slater.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  5/15/02
 

Folks-- 

John Woo is the master.  He is basically (now that Kurosawa has left this earth) the greatest living action director, period.  “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled” are classics of the action genre, and his two-fisted, slow-motion action sequences are copied the world over.  So, why have his American films been so hit-and-miss?  “Face/Off” and “M:I-2” were both pretty good, even if style wins over substance.  But, I still remember how angry Rob “Jellybean” Grant and I were after running out to see “Broken Arrow” on the first day of its release; such a bad flick.  And, “Hard Target” and the made-for-TV films “Once a Thief” and “Blackjack” are so bad that I almost recommend them to see just how low a great director can sink.  (Random “Blackjack” joke: sugar...bunny rabbit...snowflake...)

So, where does his new film “Windtalkers” fit in?  My friend Max got me a pass for a free screening tonight, since the director will be in San Francisco this weekend to do a press junket for the film.  Let’s just put it this way:

I saw it for free, and I love John Woo...and, this movie fucking blows.

It looked average-to-decent in the trailer, but man, I am officially worried about my man Woo.  Nicolas Cage, who was much better in Woo’s “Face/Off”, plays Marine Corporal Joe Enders, a Philly native that gets all of his men killed in a skirmish in 1943 during the war.  After losing some hearing and his equilibrium for a time as a result of injuries in the skirmish, Enders is reinstated and assigned to protect a Navajo private named Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), who has a unique ability to use a code that the Marines have developed that can’t be interpreted by the Japanese soldiers in the Pacific theater of operations.  Enders’ mission is even more difficult because he is told that he must ensure that the code doesn’t fall into enemy hands...meaning that, if the situation presents itself, he must kill Ben rather than risk his capture.

It’s Woo, so you can guarantee that scores upon scores of people are going to die, and they do so with a varying degree of intrigue during the course of the film.  Woo did for the explosion what Britney did for the tube top, so lots of soldiers from both sides get jettisoned from bunkers, tanks, pillboxes, personnel trucks, jeeps, cycles, and the like.  Admittedly, the explosions are pretty well done.  But, the rest of the action is where Woo runs into problems.  See, in this environment—a real-life war scenario—Woo has some issues because he makes his lead character run around firing a submachine from the *hip.*  All of the other soldiers that are carrying machine guns seem to be doing the same thing.  You are right, who am I to speak about how to properly fire a machine gun?  But, from what I can tell, shouldn’t you have to

FUCKING AIM

the gun at somebody?  Cage runs around in this movie and kills more than 200 people with his sub plus his handgun...all by himself.  This would be fine, if he were Chow Yun-Fat.  But, in “Windtalkers”, there are about six scenes where he runs into an open field, with Japanese soldiers (whoops...I mean, “Japs”) firing RIGHT AT HIM FROM LESS THAN 20 FEET AWAY and missing.  Enders is, naturally, an unbelievable shot, and he doesn’t miss a single shot the entire film.  I am sorry if this gives too much away.  But, it is ridiculous in a war film.  In a straight action piece, it makes for great cinema.  But, come on.

And, when the movie isn’t dealing with action, oh my.  Oh my goodness.  This, friends, is as atrocious as it gets.  Clichés include:

  1. war letters read in voiceover

  2. a pep meeting where a gunny sergeant tells his troops “let’s get those Japs!”

  3. a scene where some guy named Cookie serves the troops a meal that looks like fried, two-day-old shit to make the entire audience go “Eww!!!”

  4. a scene where a character laments over a lost comrade—under heavy gun- and shellfire—by stopping, putting down his weapon, and yelling “NOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!”

  5. a character that, just one scene after telling his best friend that if “something happens to him”, to give the wife his wedding ring

  6. a racist good-guy that “sees the light” one day after being saved by a member of the race he hates so much

“Windtalkers” also features, for my money, one of the most poorly directed, poorly acted, poorly shot scenes in movie history, when said gunny sergeant tries to rally the boys to beat those Japanese soldiers; the way the soldiers all try and get fired up for the upcoming battle is as bad as any elementary school play ever made.  I literally almost walked out of the theater after this scene, and I have never walked out of a film before.

Given the talent involved here (did I mention Frances O’Connor, in the most thankless war nurse role of all time?), this is pretty shocking.  Oh, and Christian Slater, who Max and I thought had “star” written all over him after classics like “Gleaming the Cube” , “Heathers” and “True Romance”, is in this film.  Now, after this plus “3000 Miles to Graceland” and “Very Bad Things”, he should seriously consider retirement.  Really.  Cage has enough clout to come back from anything, and Woo is Woo even if his films in the US do suck.

But, “Windtalkers” is a sick, dying, spayed-or-neutered pet waiting for the gravestone.  Shockingly horrific.

Rating:  Hard Vice

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09