The second ever film under the prestigious WWE Films banner is sort of a half-assed COMMANDO rip-off starring John Cena. Yeah, I never heard of him either but apparently he is or was the heavyweight champion, he has a rap album and his championship belt has a rotating thing on it like those asinine spinning rims that rappers use to dispose of some of their disposable income. But he doesn’t do anything that cool/asinine in this movie. Basically, imagine a bland clean cut muscleman with no personality, and the PG-13 action movie that would be built around him.
The movie starts out with promising ridiculousness. First you got the WWE Films logo, which is still misleadingly classy with an orchestra tuning up, and still does not even explode or bleed or anything that you would expect it to do. But it does rotate into the opening titles which involve Mr. Cena in full marine uniform doing a salute while standing on top of a giant flag. So far so good. Then it goes to the prologue where John Cena (as the fictional character John Triton) is in Iraq, sneaking around an “al Quaeda compound, 100 miles outside of Tikrit.” (Bush hasn’t convinced the world that there’s a connection between 9-11 and the Iraq fiasco, but maybe he’s convinced the WWE.)
Of course, John has to save some marines from some terrorists, and they tell him over the walkie talkie to wait but he says “There’s no time!” Alot of movies called THE MARINE would try to have, like, some sort of military advisor or something, but for this one it looks like they tried to make sure nobody working on the movie even knew that the military was a real existing institution, they thought it was some kind of heroic myth like jedis or herculeses. So this Triton guy actually runs through one wall of the barn/compound the way football teams run through those paper banners. He fires off a few hundred bullets, then things start blowing up and catching on fire and he does a bunch of fancy kicks and punches to save the hostages. I think I counted five explosions just in the brief scene of them leaving the compound.
Then Triton’s superior explains to him that although he is a good and loyal marine, he has to be discharged because he “disobeyed a direct order.” That’s right, we are supposed to believe that during the Iraq war they would actually kick a guy out for doing a good job. As if we don’t know they’re hiring 65 year olds with bum knees. No way the modern military is kicking a guy out unless he’s gay and knows Arabic.
And we know he’s not gay because he comes home to his wife for a chaste PG-13 underwear hugging scene, where it is revealed that the very next day he’s starting a new job as a security guard with his wacky fat friend. This isn’t ROLLING THUNDER. From the point of view of the movie, being away from your model wife for years fighting an insane war is actually a really fun job. When you get home your only regret is that you want to be a marine and will “go crazy” if you spend some time relaxing with your wife. You gotta go right into a new job with one of your buddies. Wait a minute, is he supposed to be gay?
The security guard part is a long section that has nothing to do with the plot of the movie, but establishes that Triton doesn’t know what to do in a world where he can’t be a marine, and also allows him to throw a guy through a window. (Sadly, it’s a ground level window.)
The actual plot begins when Robert Patrick of T2 and various crap fame strongarms some diamonds. The robbery scene is okay but achieves excellence when for no reason the Comic Relief Black Guy fires some kind of magic gun that causes a police car to explode into the largest, flamiest car explosion ever created and bounce up into the air and then fall back down in slow motion while the characters walk in front of it as if they don’t notice that a fuckin atomic bomb just went off ten feet behind them. Meanwhile, fired-after-one-day-security-guard Triton and his beard/wife go on a trip and stop at the same gas station where Patrick and his crew have a run-in with a cop in a souped up Fast and Furious cop car. So the gas station is blown up, the wife becomes a hostage and Triton is in hot pursuit using the police car.
The car chase is the best sequence in the movie. They drive real fast, crash into each other, the car loses pieces one at a time and eventually he drives off a cliff, and that’s when it gets real good. As the car launches into the air and spins in slow motion, we get shots of the various bad guys firing their guns at it. I love that even though the car is already flying off a cliff they look like they are very intent on shooting it, like it’s really important to them. Their hard work pays off because, still spinning, the car catches on fire. But the movie isn’t over yet. Triton falls out of the car while it spins and flames and falls and gets shot. Since Mr. Patrick and friends are presumably not seeing this in slow motion like we are, they think he’s still inside. Also, they don’t get to see it from 4 or 5 different angles like we do so they really don’t get to appreciate its full awesomeness.
Unfortunately, almost all of the awesomeness contained within this movie was already seen in the trailer. After the car flip, Triton must spend at least half an hour of screen time just tracking the bad guys through a swamp. I guess you could argue that this is good, because Patrick has more screen presence in his socks than Cena has in his entire bulging frame. Cena doesn’t have the calculated outrageousness of a Brian Bosworth or a Dennis Rodman, he doesn’t have the grit of a Roddy Piper, and he sure as fuck doesn’t have the charisma of the Rock. He is cast only for his muscles, which is actually counterproductive because they’re too big, they make it hard to take him seriously as a regular guy or even a marine. They would actually be a liability to him, I think. How’s he gonna fight a war (or guard a building) when he has to spend all day on those machines Ivan Drago used in ROCKY IV?
Anyway, even when Cena is off screen you still got problems because the movie is as bland as he is. I’m sure somebody could come up with some exceptions, but as a general rule I don’t think a non-martial arts action movie can get away with being PG-13. Because then all you got is explosions. There is no bleeding. No broken bones. No stabbings. No use of the word “motherfucker.” There’s one scene where a dead body (a bad guy – only bad guys die in this movie, and since they aren’t even fighting the good guy in most of the movie they have to kill each other) is thrown to some alligators. So to establish that it gets eaten, there is a one second shot of alligators eating an empty pair of jeans. Now, I know with every fiber of my being that the good people of WWE Films are very aware that their audience would rather see an alligator bite a guy’s head off than an alligator snap at an empty pair of jeans. Lets be honest with ourselves here. But they want a PG-13 so they give us the shaft. I guess they could have a legitimate commercial point there. Instead of the seven people at the showing I went to there might’ve been four if it was rated-R. The three guys who felt it was necessary to sit directly behind me in a giant empty theater and say “Daaaaaaammmn!” every time somebody got hit on the head with an object would’ve had to wait two months for the (probaly unrated) DVD to come out.
To fill time before the action climax (rated PG-13 for some more explosions and scenes of mild punching) they also make the huge mistake of trying to be funny. Hollywood, can we please have a 75 year hiatus on DELIVERANCE jokes? For fuck’s sake that one’s been used more than “women going to the bathroom in groups” at this point. But they seem under the impression that they just discovered America. They not only draw out the “male rape is hilarious” joke but have the score slide into “Dueling Banjos.” By the way, the score (by Don Davis, who did a great job on the MATRIX pictures) is mostly terrible, always trying to make things seem exciting with cheesy drum machines and at one point even doing wacky “isn’t this part funny?” music. But he does deliver a rare laugh by including an Irish-tinged love theme kind of like TITANIC.
I think the movie would be alot more enjoyable if it was treated seriously. Even the intentionally absurd shit like TRANSPORTER 2 has to be done with a straight face. Action heroes are both cooler and funnier if they seem to be sincere. When the bad guy keeps making jokes about how he’s afraid of rock candy it kind of throws the whole thing off. Unless it is treated as a serious thing, like how Dolph is afraid of the color white in BLACKJACK. But here it’s definitely supposed to be funny, and that makes it not funny, and kind of uncomfortable.
In the end (SPOILER) [HUGE SPOILER COMING UP] (HOLY SHIT BE CAREFUL PEOPLE I’M GIVING IT AWAY HERE) (THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE) (TURN BACK NOW) [ABANDON ALL HOPE] (SPOILER) (SPOILER) (SPOILER) (REPEAT) he saves his wife, the end. You don’t find out if he found a way to be happy without being a marine. In fact, you are left with the idea that his wife better get kidnapped every day so he has something to do with his life. But they just leave you hanging. Now, I’m not saying that anybody gives a shit what happens to this stupid character. But it shows the dishonesty of the movie. This thing spends a good 30-40 minutes pretending like it’s about a loyal marine having to find happiness when he’s kicked out of the marines for being too great and awesome. You have to sit through all that shit to get to the explosions. But then at the end it just says “ah, who gives a shit, go to the credits.” So clearly they knew all along that nobody gave a shit. But they had to pad the trailer out to feature length so they made us sit through that bullshit.
As expected, the movie puts an admirable amount of emphasis on the artistry of fiery explosions. But otherwise it is not a memorable return to the old school action style of the ’80s and early ’90s or a clever new re-invention of the genre. It mostly just goes through the motions. The first WWE Films picture, SEE NO EVIL, was a whole hell of alot more fun. It was more consistently retarded and at the same time more clever. The R-rating allowed for lots of humorously over-the-top deaths and mutilations, and its big dumb muscleman (playing a retarded, sexually repressed, emotionally abused religious fanatic serial killer and accomplished eyeball collector) was better cast than this one. Its director (famous porn auteur Gregory Dark) seemed genuinely interested in showing things you haven’t seen before (in the context of a generic slasher movie plot) and the crazy, tasteless, knuckleheaded tone of the whole thing seemed perfectly fit to be the signature style of WWE Films. In comparison, this one is underwhelming. There is one little touch in a similar spirit in Robert Patrick’s last appearance in the movie, but it’s poorly timed and doesn’t go far enough.
Some of you probaly don’t understand why I would be genuinely excited for this movie, but I know some of you were just as excited as I was. Well, I’m sorry to say that I was real disappointed. This is a movie that can be distilled into a perfect trailer, but in its full length it’s a bore. They probaly should’ve just made the trailer and left it at that.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.