BASIC, starring John Travolta, is shot in a lush tropical setting with heavy rain pouring down steadily throughout most of the movie. This soggy, brooding military murder thriller will no doubt be enjoyed by some, but its confusing twists and turns take place at breakneck speed, and its occasional muffled dialogue and stream of obscenities may frustrate many.
A small army detail is dropped off by chopper in the Panamanian rain forest to conduct a military training exercise, but something goes terribly wrong along the way and only two of the seven soldiers in the patrol apparently make it back alive, one of them badly hurt. Assigned to conduct the criminal investigation is the relatively inexperienced, but highly motivated Lt. Julia Osborne, played by Connie Nielsen. Lt. Osborne’s commanding officer (Timothy Daly), however, wants to get it over with and get the case wrapped up as soon as possible. To achieve this goal, he will need a crack interrogator to extract the truth from the two surviving servicemen who have totally clamed up.
Enter John Travolta as DEA agent Tom Hardy, a hardened and cynical retired Army Ranger veteran whose copious drinking ways and murky past paints him as a black sheep of sorts. Hardy initially draws nothing but contempt from Lt. Osborne who wants to get the job done by the book, but Hardy proceeds to dazzle the Lt. with his interrogation skills and psychological manipulation of Dunbar (Brian Van Holt), one of the two survivors holding the secret to the truth. As the case appears to be solved, Osborne finds one last piece in the puzzle which does not quite fit, and after overcoming Hardy’s spirited resistance to any further investigation, they both decide to dig deeper into the matter. This conclusion-followed-by-a-new-lead-followed-by-a-new-conclusion scenario repeats itself several times, each time reconstructing the events leading to the murders from a different perspective, and ultimately settling on one final conclusion, or is it?
Unfortunately, by now the audience has most likely checked out of the loud, soggy script just too exhausted and confused to care. Probably not since the gripping cat and mouse game played by Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve in DEATHTRAP, has another movie had as many twists and turns as BASIC. Where DEATHTRAP, however, presented the deceptive behavior of the movie’s characters in crystal clear fashion, and left enough time to flavor and consider the ramifications, in BASIC it is a blurry, frantic rush from clue to clue, and lead to lead, all under a backdrop of so much rain, thunder, gunfire, and explosions that it is hard to understand the dialogue at times, much less to appreciate and analyze the evidence.
Travolta once again overplays his role as the cocky DEA agent, but Connie Nielsen balances it out by doing a serious, credible job. Samuel L. Jackson as the hated Sergeant Nathan West is almost laughably strident in his own role, and as campy as Travolta. The filmmaker should have given more shading to his character and more things for Jackson to do. Going right along with the plan, Giovanni Ribisi (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) as Kendall, the wounded survivor who admits to being homosexual, decides to follow Travolta and Jackson right over the top himself, but his performance is a little less predictable.
Although BASIC has a dominant moral worldview with an anti-drug message, there are some brief homosexual references and other objectionable elements. The military violence is strong, but, except for a gory scene where one man vomits vast quantities of blood after being poisoned, not gory or extremely excessive. Beyond the violence expected from such a genre as this, the dialogue is littered with more than 125 obscenities and profanities, plus some brief, explicit sexual talk. There’s also a scene implying that Hardy and Osborne take time out to fornicate.
Ultimately, it’s the language that carries BASIC over the top into the realm of excessive crudity. Drastically cutting down on it, and preferably eliminating it, would have gone a long way toward making this movie more palatable to mature audiences.
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(B, C, Ho, Ab, LLL, VVV, S, A, DD, M) Mild moral worldview about a military murder investigation which turns out to be an anti-drug investigation, John Travolta's character sings, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, except Jesus", and man admits to being homosexual and talks about "rednecks" and "homophobes," but he turns out to be one of the villains, as well as some immoral activity, such as male/female leads engage in brief sexual banter and movie later implies they fornicated; about 110 obscenities (including 50 or so "f" words), 15 strong profanities, three light profanities, talk about rednecks, and vomiting blood; implied fornication, man admits to being homosexual, and brief crude sex language; no nudity; very strong action violence includes military training, several versions of a shootout between military personnel on an intense training mission during a hurricane (including shots to the head), explosions, villain gets shot to death, narcotics officer threatens to shove the head of an uncooperative man into a propeller blade, and man coughs up vast quantities of blood after being poisoned; implied fornication and man admits to being homosexual; upper male nudity and obscured upper female nudity during a street carnival of some kind; alcohol use; smoking and references to people selling drugs; and, deception and lying.
GENRE: Mystery Thriller