Friday, November 04, 2005

Jarhead, rated R for graphic war violence as imagined by an effete Hollywood fancylad.

I'll admit that I didn't hate "American Beauty." True, you had the dopey kid who followed the floating cellophane bag around with a video camera. That was pretty dumb. You also had the eyebrows guy from "The OC" to have to look at, and that's harsh. On the other hand,the movie made you realize what a great actor Kevin Spacey really is. Imagine, for example, the sheer professionalism and mastery of the craft that it took for him not to want to run offstage and wretch when he had to pretend to be about to get it on with Mena Suvari.

Yet, for all the swirling, varied thoughts that came to mind after watching "American Beauty," here's one that never did:

Gee, I'd love to see this director's take on the Marine Corps.

Yes, folks, Jarhead is a movie about Marines made by the guy who made "American Beauty."

The story opens with Spuds MacKenzie, the Bud Light Party Dog, paying a visit to the troops a few days before hostilities break out over Hussein's conquest of Kuwait. The party is a rager. Somebody's got a keg on the 3rd floor of the ammo dump and a funnel with a really long tube attached to it so that if you're standing at the bottom of that thing when the beer comes out, it hits you like a Steven Seagall punch to the throat. Party on, jarheads!

Soon, the war starts, but what's interesting is that these particular Marines don't seem to be involved in any fighting. They do a lot of walking through the desert and making overly obvious early 90s pop culture references. For example, Gyllenhaal says at one point, "How about that 'Parker Lewis Can't Lose'?" To which one of his jarhead buddies replies, "yes, despite the fact that they have a limited number of affiliates, Fox has demonstrated a willingness to experiment with innovative forms of programming which may lead them to success in the coming decade."

Then there's the one jarhead who keeps repeating lines from Max Headroom and being told, "hey, man, it's 1991. Max Headroom is no longer cool." War, however, is cruel, and what the jarheads don't know, but the audience does, is that Max Headroom was never cool. It's a grim foreshadowing of things to come.

Jamie Foxx stars as one of the other jarheads. His role in the movie is to act as the foil to the white characters love of Def Leppard and Sylvester Stallone movies and drop in all the appropriate black cultural references of the time. Fair enough, but with little more than "Mo' Betta Blues" and basketball to work with, it gets tiresome pretty fast. So in traditional Hollywood form, he's the first guy in the platoon to die. Not from battle, mind you. They never seem to get to that. Instead Foxx suffocates on his own vomit after Spuds pays them another visit on the front lines, they all get trashed, and nobody turns Foxx onto his stomach when he passes out.

Through a series of Gyllenhaal flashbacks to a life-changing experience at the "Us" Festival, we learn that Gyllenhaal joined the Marines not just as a way to get to party with Spuds Mackenzie, but also to live out his dream of marrying Christina Applegate. Frankly, it's not much of a plan. It revolves chiefly around going to ragers because he thinks Applegate's character on "Married with Children" is real and will probably show up at the kind of bitchin' parties Marines have.

After a few days of walking around, cursing meaningfully at each other and casually referring to things like the "Humpty Dance" while artillery shells explode in the background, the war ends.

But that doesn't mean the party has to!

To the strains of "Fight the Power," our heroes celebrate their victory in the desert, and with Hussein out of the way, there's an awkward scene where they all realize they're sexually attracted to each other. Since it's 1991, they can't do anything about it except look angry, confused and stupid. They'll have to wait until 1997 or so, when suddenly everyone in movies like this became gay.

The story closes with a voiceover from Gyllenhaal as Spuds Mackenzie leads the troops on a ticker tape parade down Wall Street in New York. It's a rager, and Chrstina Applegate is there. Gyllenhaal's character declares that he loved every minute of his stupid life, just before he chokes on his own vomit.

What is striking about this movie is the realism. It's a very convincing portrayal of what the director of American Beauty would imagine happens during a war, which is mostly Marines suddenly realizing they're gay.

On a scale of Max Headroom being the worst (never cool) to Christina Applegate being the best (still pretty cool), I rate this movie a Corey Haim, which is pretty freakin' bad.


Blogger Deborah Graff said...

I always loved that little dog! No wonder this film is an Oscar contender. Hey, does anyone in this movie say "Eat my shorts"?

8:08 AM  

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