Navy SEALs (1990)

Although our mission here at the ISCFC is to bring you reviews of movies where you’ve got half a suspicion that I’m just making them up, so obscure are they, every now and again we get time off for good behaviour and we get to review something you might actually have heard of. And so it is today with one of the greatest running jokes ever (in “Clerks”).

Before I start, this review was written on 23rd May 2017, the day after a terrorist attack killed almost 20 people at a concert in Manchester. This is the town two of my ex-girlfriends live in, one I’ve visited hundreds of times, and (obviously) my heart goes out to those who’ve lost loved ones or whose lives have been affected. The subject of terrorism and war in the Middle East is the main theme of this movie, and its attitude towards the innocent people caught up in a conflict they don’t understand or agree with is almost obscenely liberal, at least to the 2017 viewer. If, perhaps, this is a little too close to home, please feel free to skip this review and go read some of our other trash.

“Navy SEALs” feels like it ought to have been a Shane Black / Jerry Bruckheimer movie. From the very beginning, where we see co-star Charlie Sheen waking up on a beach, hungover from a bachelor party, it feels like part of that family, somewhere in between “Lethal Weapon” and “Top Gun”. A heck of a cast gradually wakes up and goes to a wedding – there’s groom and excellent moustache-wearer Graham (Dennis Haysbert); sort of background guy Dane (Bill Paxton, who really ought to have had a bigger role); the aforementioned Sheen, playing a fellow called Hawkins; and, the star of proceedings, Lt Curran (Michael Biehn).

By the way, I think Michael Biehn must have fired his agent after this, or every casting director in Hollywood got bored of his by-the-book military man shtick at once. Aside from a brilliant role in 1996’s “The Rock”, he never did anything nearly as big again. I mean, he was in “Aliens”, “The Abyss”, “Terminator” and this…he’s like the Sam Worthington of the late 80s.

When you’ve finished laughing at them all being interrupted by their pagers in the middle of the wedding ceremony, our team of badass Navy Seals is off to “the Eastern Mediterranean” to rescue some soldiers who’d been captured there. I want to doff my cap to the location scout, because it looks absolutely like it could be the middle of a warzone – all the exteriors were filmed in Spain, which is apparently full of bombed-out ruins (or it was all just really good camerawork and I’m an idiot). They also filmed in real military bases – you can’t help but be impressed when they’re having a conversation and the backdrop is a gigantic aircraft carrier. The action is strong, as you’d expect from a big budget macho movie of the era.

ASIDE: There are two very important speeches in this movie, which are even more surprising given it was made in 1990, before the Gulf War really started. First is an extremely modern-sounding anti-USA argument from the baddies holding the hostages, about what the USA does to his country; and secondly comes a lot later, and is the journalist who’s crowbarred into the story in order for there to be a woman in the cast (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, with a terribly underwritten part). She’s half-Muslim and, doing an on-air bit, basically breaks down the history of Islamic terrorism in a couple of sentences. Islam is a religion of tolerance, but enough bombs land on your head and you’re going to be less tolerant. It must have been of mild interest to viewers in 1990, but with 27 years of bombs being dropped on the heads of tolerant Muslims, it has a much deeper resonance. I realise how stupid that is to say about a ra-ra pro-USA big budget Hollywood movie like “Navy Seals”, but I call them like I see them.

There’s a beautiful party scene set on a golf course, which attempts to rival the beach volleyball scene in “Top Gun” for sheer bro-like homoeroticism, with two men going shirtless and just wearing small neon-coloured shorts; when this scene’s finished, and you realise the movie isn’t even a third over yet, you begin to wonder what on earth is going to be left for them to do for the next hour. Well, darkness and misery, of course. Sheen starts enjoying the violence a little too much, Haysbert (who might as well have had a target painted on his chest, after missing his own wedding) gets popped, and the team look miserable while the President and his top brass decide what to do about the cache of surface-to-air missiles the SEALs found on their rescue mission. Then there’s tons of action, in the air, on and under the sea, and on land, and apparently a group of retired SEALs who went to the premier were mostly happy with the action and portrayals of characters, so if you like authenticity, this may even have some of that for you.

It’s a poor cousin to the great action classics of the 80s and 90s, but it’s still in the family. You will start to drift away when they get sent back to the Middle East for the third time, but you shouldn’t, as the final segment is nothing more than “The Warriors”, with the SEALs trying to get across the city to their waiting submarine, while everyone wants them dead. It doesn’t match the rest of the movie at all (as that’s all precise military tactics and lots of EMOTIONAL conversations) but it’s great.

The writers and director are, perhaps unsurprisingly, ISCFC favourites. Director Lewis Teague also made “Wedlock” and the “Justice League” TV movie / pilot (poor Lewis, his IMDB bio lists him as “efficient and underrated”, pretty much the definition of damning with faint praise); and co-writer Gary Goldman penned “Big Trouble In Little China” and “Total Recall”, before making his money as a script consultant.

Chances are you watched this when it came out and have no memory of it at all – perhaps it shouldn’t be top of your list when it comes to rewatching, but it’s worth leaving on, should you ever happen upon it.

Rating: thumbs up

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