Reviewed by Mike Brannon
Rating: 3 Beans
ell, kemo sabe, you puts down your wampum, and you gets what you expects.
Since World War II has long been a staple of Hollywood, the latest war movies require some sort of a novel twist (Private Ryan: The rescue of one soldier for PR purposes / Tuskeegee Airmen: The black air warriors / etc). Windtalker's twist is that it focuses on the story of the Navajo Indians who served as living code machines in the Pacific Theatre, using a code based on their native tongue, which the Japanese could not decipher.
So the hero of the story is Corporal Joe Enders, a soldier who is the sole survivor of his squad due to a Japanese Ambush. The movie begins with the harrowing battle, and Joe and his last surviving squadmate are thrown through the air from a grenade blast.
Cut to a Hawaii Convalesce Hospital. Joe is sitting in a wheelchair, reflecting on the horribe turn of events. I was also reflecting... on how the hell he got there! I mean, not only did he just get blown up by a grenade (something that would absolutely kill most mere mortals), absolutely no details are given on how he escaped from the island, greviously wounded, surrounded by charging enemies. I guess he clicked his ruby combat boots together three times and said "There's no place like Hawaii, there's no place like Hawaii..." So we have a new movie device, folks: the "Invisible Deus Ex Machina."
Anyway, Joe is in poor shape, confined to a wheelchair and apparently mostly deaf. But only for about three minute of screen time! You see, after a few scenes where we meet the token (and I do mean TOKEN) love interest, Nurse Rita Swelton, Joe is suddenly able to walk and indeed RUN with no problem whatsoever, and his hearing is flawless for the rest of the movie! The only evidence of his severe injuries is a scarred ear.
On this site, I panned the crucial love story in "Pearl Harbor" as dumb and unbelievable. Well, that is a richly nuanced romance compared to what we get here. I REALLY can't believe that a woman falls in love with a man who shows her absolutely no affection nor even a shred of friendship. He's always brooding and being short with her, and he ignores all her letters throughout the movie. Why she puts up with this is never disclosed.
Actually, this touches on a key problem with the character of Joe Enders. Simply put, he's a jerk. He is pointlessly bitter to everyone. It's hard to feel empathy for a character like this.
Well, after his miraculous recovery, Joe is chosen to be the guardian of one of the secret "Code Talkers," an easy-going young Navajo named Ben Yazee (Adam Beach). Beach's honest, naive performance is one of the few bright spots of this movie. Also charged with protecting a front-line Windtalker is the amiable Peter "Ox" Henderson (Christian Slater, he of the smarmy grin and horrendously jutting ears). His charge is an older, and decidedly less trusting, Navajo shaman named Charles Whitehorse (Roger Willie).
At this point, I've covered about twenty minutes of the movie, but the rest is really just action filler. Ok, let's match up with 'the book,' shall we...?!
(Mike pulls out a big tome, titled "WORLD WAR II MOVIE CLICHES")
1 - The homing bullets. Jumpin Judas Rockin' Priest, NONE of these guys missed, EVER. They have the Woo-imparted Infallible Hero Accuracy. I mean, every single bullet found an enemy. Every machine gun blast took out a squad, it seemed. One time, Enders, badly wounded, falling down and TWISTING in mid-fall, shoots three shots from his 45, at three Japanese running down a hill, and hits EVERY ONE! Ender's chances of doing this in real life are about equivalent to my chances of derailing a speeding locomotive with a running headbutt.
2 - The Halo of Heroism. The bullets, mortars, grenades, cannon shells... all of them zip past the hero harmlessly. Reality check. I can believe the abysmal hit ratio if this were action movie thugs, but I simply cannot believe a whole army is this incompetent. Don't you think one of the soldiers would notice all the sights on all the guns pull about 500 yards to the left?!
3 - The Racist Southerner - Yep, of course, we have the good ol' boy who makes racist comments and causes trouble.
4 - The Racism Redemption - AND, of course, the said racist figures that well gee, maybe these guys aren't so bad after all after they saved my butt.
5 - The Retribution - When a secondary character gets killed, his buddy, of course, is going to stand up, howl in indignation, and let loose an unaimed burst that is going to kill every enemy in the county.
6 - The Token Humanity Gesture - Showing we Americans aren't racist after all, despite calling our enemies "japs" and "nips" throughout the movie, by giving a scared little Japanese Girl a Hershey Bar.
7 - The token young private who just got married (Jason Priestly) who is obsessed about getting back to his girl. Wow, he's in for a long, long life, isn't he? Jeez, if you talk about what you have waiting for you in these movies "when you get back," you might as well start chiselling the epitaph.
8 - The tattered, six-man squad taking on (I counted) well over fifty Japanese and losing only one man in the heat of the action.
The violence was, naturally, intense, but it wasn't very realistic. Most guys who are blown up just fly through the air. A guy who rolls onto a mine just flies through the air like The Rocketeer, his guts miraculously still inside him!
This 40-minute cul-de-sac of violence bookended with cliches ends with the climactic decision -- will Enders kill Yazee to protect the code, when all appears lost? In the scene, they are on the ground, the soldiers are apparently coming, and Enders puts his 45 in Yazee's face. And, surprise, decides he can't do it... and then they just GET UP, apparently without an enemy in view, and continue running! The "surprise" ending was about as subtle as a fire axe driven into your chest.
The title characters of the Windtalkers gave fine performances. But the rest of the movie with the dumb cliches, the unappealing lead, the blatantly outrageous reality stretches, really eclipse the work of Beach and Willie. This story's premise is indeed intriguing. But at its heart, it's just another retread of the Private Ryan World War II movie revival. It wasn't terrible, but you aren't getting anything new here.
But on a positive note, Christian Slater gets beheaded by a Japanese Squad Captain! This was something I was praying for about 15 minutes into the movie "Kuffs." For that, we've got to take off a bean... we'll say three beans. Three beans make a small casserole -- or a derivative, overblown, uninspired WWII yarn obviously relying on its novel premise alone.
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