Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Tim Daly, Giovanni Ribisi, Taye Diggs and Brian Van Holt

Directed by
John McTiernan

Review by Mark Walters


John Travolta needs a hit.  After duds like DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, SWORDFISH, LUCKY NUMBERS and let's not forget BATTLEFIELD EARTH, one would think things could only get better.  Insert someone like Samuel L. Jackson into the equation and you double your odds of success, right?  Unfortunately BASIC fails to impress in so many ways.  The film begins in a chopper flying over the jungle with Sgt. Nathan West (Sam Jackson) sending his tough group of Army Rangers into an unknown exercise.  Quickly cut to the following day as another chopper flying over the drop site hoping to find the Rangers, only to come across a gunfight with live ammo taking place in the jungle.  They rescue two men.  One is wounded and placed in the hospital.  The other won't talk except to another Ranger.  The rest of the team is presumed dead.  Base commander Colonel Bill Styles (Tim "WINGS" Daly) doesn't feel the assigned interrogator Lt. Osborne (Connie Nielsen) can get the job done.  He calls in his old buddy Agent Tom Hardy (Travolta), who just happens to be an ex-ranger.  Hardy isn't perfect by any means.  He drinks often, and is trying desperately to shed the unsavory image he acquired after being accused of bribery some years ago.  Osborne doesn't like him, and doesn't understand the need to have him around.  The two of them begin questioning one of the rescued Rangers named Dunbar.  Hardy succeeds in making him talk, but can't seem to get any details that will help explain what exactly went on in the jungle.  So it's on to the injured Ranger named Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi with an oddly deep voice).  Hardy and Osborne get much more out of Kendall, finding out exactly what went down and why.  But things don't seem to add up.  Dunbar suddenly begins telling a different tale, and before you know it nothing makes sense.

BASIC fails because it tries too hard to keep us guessing.  Plot points are thrown out only to be dismissed minutes later.  Several stories are told from different perspectives, none of which make a whole lot of sense.  Hardy and Osborne seem to have an angry sexual tension that's just silly considering the circumstances, and the series of flashbacks the story is told with quickly become fairly frustrating.  The movie is one big mess.  It's a retelling of an event from multiple perspectives that does little more than confuse the audience.  Travolta plays the fallen hero bit okay, but there's no real reason to care for him or even want him to figure everything out.  Jackson is effectively mean as the overbearing West, but we only get to know him through certain moments during the flashbacks.  Nielsen can't seem to get a handle on whatever accent it is she's supposed to be doing.  Harry Connick Jr. pops up in a role that could've been played by just about anyone, and Taye Diggs falls just short of being a dramatically tortured character who once again is seen only in flashback form.  Ribisi could've been great had he not been confined to a hospital bed for the majority of his scenes.  The most upsetting aspect of this film is it's one of those stories that ends in such a way that makes you wonder if ANY of what you saw really happened.  Once you realize what's been going on the whole time, it's so incredibly ludicrous that you'll probably just laugh.  I'm not sure how this one looked on paper, but it doesn't work on film at all.  Even after giving it a great deal of thought, I'm still not sure I understand what I was supposed to have seen.  Any movie that leaves you this confused has failed in my book.  I think they were going for a darker version of A FEW GOOD MEN crossed with THE USUAL SUSPECTS, but what they got was a forgettable piece of garbage.  I hate to be this hard on a film, especially one from director John McTiernan.  He certainly could've used a hit himself after the appalling ROLLERBALL remake.  Looks like he and Travolta will both have to keep trying.

Images copyright Columbia Pictures 2003 score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give BASIC a 4.

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All content 2004