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Basic (2003)

Deception is their most dangerous weapon

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 98 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

“Basic” is a classic example of a movie that ends up outsmarting itself by throwing in one (or more) plot twist too many and expecting the audience to simply go along with it. Other than that, it's notable for only two reasons. The first is that it's the first film to co-star John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson since “Pulp Fiction” nine years earlier. The second is Travolta's startlingly trim physique – he appears to have shed the equivalent weight of a small African nation.

Travolta – The Actor Formerly Known As Tubby – plays DEA agent Tom Hardy. He's been drafted in by the military to investigate the murder of a big-shot drill sergeant (Jackson) and several of his long-suffering cadets in the rain-battered Panamanian jungle. Two survivors (Giovanni Ribisi and Brian Van Holt) are recovered, but both tell conflicting stories of what went on. So it's up to Tom and fellow investigator Julia Osbourne (Connie Nielsen) to thrash out the truth. In this case, that involves Nielsen walloping Harry Connick Jnr across the face with a phone book, which is perfectly okay with me.

Director John McTiernan previously brought us “Predator”, and it shows in his familiar handling of the jungle scenes. Unfortunately, the movie lacks the tension, action, and general entertainment level of either “Predator” or McTiernan's other classic “Die Hard”.

At times it's almost as if writer James Vanderbilt is making things up as he goes along, such is the inexplicable nature of the constant sharp turns in the story. It's fashionable to add twist after twist after twist these days, but you have to know when to stop – otherwise everyone in the audience quickly learns to expect the exact opposite of whatever the movie seems to be pointing them towards.

Unlike the similarly-themed Japanese flick “Rashomon”, “Basic” fails in explaining its' exploration of the truth and is confusing not because it's so clever – but because much of it just doesn't make much sense.

It's Got: Harry Connick Jnr being thumped on the coupon with a phone directory. I know Ive said that already – but I wanted to say it again.

It Needs: To stop trying to confuse the viewer and concentrate on coming up with an ending that works.


A disappointing military mystery that doesn't possess half the intelligence it clearly aspires to.