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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Reel Baseball: Major League 2 (1994)

I was going to write a serious, normal sort of review for this movie. Then I thought it’d be a lot easier to just publish my review of the first one again BECAUSE THEY’RE REALLY REALLY SIMILAR

Now that shout is out of the way…I appreciate there’s not a ton of different things you can do with a baseball movie. “Plucky band of misfits win the day” is by far the simplest, but the problem for the producers of this movie is, they already did that and the Cleveland Indians are winners now. So, what to do, what to do? The answer is – spend the first 45 minutes of the movie turning them back into loveable losers! Willie Mays-Hayes (now played by Omar Epps, as Wesley Snipes had become a star since 1989) has a knee injury so isn’t as fast as he was; Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) buys the team and is terrible at being an owner; Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) retires to become a coach; Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) becomes a Buddhist and doesn’t care if he hits or not; and coach Lou has a heart attack and is relegated to a hospital bed for most of the movie. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo, Rene Russo pops up to give Berenger some advice which he completely ignores. I get the feeling she was in town for half a day and they got her to film a scene – still, it’s good to know they’re still together I guess?

Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has a transformation greater than them all. He becomes a corporate shill whose crazy days seem far behind him, with a beautiful blonde agent / girlfriend, abandoning the 2nd grade teacher girlfriend he apparently had the previous year. This is Nikki (Michelle Burke), who despite working with troubled kids thinks Ricky was much better before – which in this case was when he was a violent troublemaker, in and out of jail (where we met him at the beginning of the first movie). I hope you’re getting a flavour of where this is going.

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So when the team is torn down again, just before the halfway mark…they run what amounts to a repeat of the first movie. Dorn sells the team back to Rachel Phelps, the villain from part 1, even though when her plan to run the team down and move it to Miami was discovered, she’d have definitely been barred from ever owning another team again. She does the same dirty tricks she did in part 1, the team bonds the same way they did in part 1, and they get all the way to the World Series, one better than they did in part 1. The primary antagonist (Phelps isn’t in it enough) is catcher Jack Parkman (David Keith), who is signed by the Indians, treats the rest of the team like garbage then is traded to the Chicago White Sox halfway through the season – guess who they need to get out in the last game of the movie?

Reading the IMDB goofs section for this is fun. They get pretty much every aspect of baseball wrong, from simple matters of fact like batting orders changing from inning to inning to blatant rule infringements (catchers aren’t allowed to insult batters at the plate, for one). They rip off the most famous incidents in the game’s history, like Babe Ruth’s called shot and Willie Mays’ overhead catch, almost casually; okay, this is worse if you’re actually a fan of baseball, but there were real players involved with the movie who probably could have told them this stuff.

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Again, like the first movie, it’s a drama with comedy elements awkwardly welded on. Bob Uecker as the commentator tries to provide laughs but fails, Randy Quaid as the mouthy fan in the bleachers is just loud and annoying, and while the team are mostly strong actors, comedy doesn’t appear to be their thing – honourable exception to Dennis Haysbert, whose new religious faith is played pretty well (although I’m sure Buddhists are able to compete at sport, the same as everyone else).

A couple of years ago, during Charlie Sheen’s “troubles”, they were evidently planning a new “Major League” movie, ignoring the part 3 that was made in 1998 (which a surprisingly large number of cast members – minus Sheen and Berenger – returned for). No-one mentioned to Charlie at the time that the entire cast would be a tiny bit long in the tooth to be baseball players, and unless they were all going to be coaches? Anyway, it was a bad idea, and it looks like it’s been dropped, plus Sheen’s star is somewhat less bright than it was then.

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“Major League 2” did manage to predict the future, in two odd ways. The Cleveland Indians made the World Series the year after this movie was released, their first time ever; and their trading for a Japanese player (comedian Takaaki Ishibashi) predates the influx of Japanese players into baseball by a number of years. But sadly, that’s not enough to make it a good movie, which is a damn shame as there’s tons of potential for a great comedy to be made about baseball. It’s not going to offend you, and there’s gentle laughs here and there, so go into it with very low expectations and you might be okay.

Rating: thumbs down

Reel Baseball – Major League (1989)

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Adding to the long list of series the ISCFC will never finish, baseball movies! After years of not really being bothered by sport, I find myself a huge fan of the St Louis Cardinals in particular and baseball in general. So, what better way to combine my love of film and baseball than to do a series on baseball films? There’s going to be comedies and dramas (mostly dramas) and documentaries and insane Japanese horror films, so strap in! Also, anyone who can think of a good name for this series of reviews will win a prize. Best so far – “Reel Baseball” (which I think I subconsciously ripped off from somewhere else).

If you saw “Major League” when you were a kid, as I did, and then watched it now, I guarantee your hazy memories of the film will be wrong. The knockabout comedy about the scrappy misfits who go all the way is actually a drama about Tom Berenger, a washed up former player who has a chance to make one last run at the big leagues, desperately trying to rekindle the relationship with the woman he loved but treated badly; the comedy seems to be a bit of an afterthought, like they hired Charlie Sheen at the last minute and did some 11th hour rewrites to add some laughs.

The Cleveland Indians are a terrible baseball team, and their new owner, a former Vegas showgirl who married into money, has an idea. If the team tanks and their season’s attendance drops below 800,000, she can cancel their contract with Cleveland and move the team to Miami, which has a climate more to her liking. To this end, she lets all the good players go, hires a bunch of has-beens, never-weres and raw rookies (along with a gruff coach who was working in a garage while managing some minor-league team part time), and waits for the blissful time ahead in Miami.

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And that’s it, a nicely simple premise for a film. The personalities – “That Guy” legend Chelcie Ross as (very) old veteran Eddie Harris; Dennis Haysbert as voodoo-practising Cerrano; Wesley Snipes as super-cocky Willie Mays Hayes; Corbin Bernsen as wealthy underachiever Roger Dorn; and Charlie Sheen as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, bounce off each other and make most of the laughs in the film. It works, too! They seem like real characters, and the only reason they feel a bit over the top is the corporate behemoth baseball has become in the last 25 years, with personalities being ground into the dirt. These guys would have been the most normal player on any team of the 1970s.

Add in Berenger as the dramatic lead and sport legend Bob Uecker as the commentator, and you’ve got yourself a sport movie. As the team starts coming together and winning matches, Berenger and former girlfriend Rene Russo’s relationship begins thawing. To be fair, as this is starting to read like a love-in for this movie, we never really see any evidence of him reforming his philandering ways, and he attempts to even play down the bad things he did, which indicates they’ll be having the same old problems a few minutes after this film finishes. But as we all know, women are prizes for being good at your job or being really brave! Oh Rene Russo, you beautiful beautiful plot device!

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It’s a great film, really, and nails the beats of the classic sport movie well. It’s also weird seeing Cleveland in its industrial prime, given what a horrible mess the city apparently is now, with jobs leaving the city in droves…but here’s the boring film reviewer bit where I talk about why it doesn’t work. Never take your eyes off the main cast members, because when the coach is giving his rousing speech, the extras playing the other members of the team don’t respond at all. At least smile or cheer or something, you guys! It’s really quite off-putting at times. As I’ve alluded to above, the addition of flat-out comedy to the gentle drama is a bit odd, but once you get used to it, it’s fine. A sort of mix you don’t really get too much these days, like with the buddy-buddy cop drama now being the preserve of straight comedies like “The Other Guys” and “21 Jump Street”.

There are two more films in the “Major League” franchise to look forward to – a sequel five years later, then a Sheen-less part 3 a few years after that. And so much more! Stay with us, ISCFC readers.

Rating: thumbs up