Friday, February 15, 2013

Movie Review: Navy SEALs (1990)

This is one of those movies I watched an absurd number of times as a teenager. Along with films like Commando and Delta Force, it's one of those movies that make being some kind of special forces soldier look so...incredibly badass.

The premise of the film is simple: Charlie Sheen is playing Tom Cruise as Maverick, only instead of F-14s they've got MP-5s and golf carts. There's a bunch of terrorists out there with Stinger missiles, and we need to totally kill those guys like, yesterday. But the only way we can do that is if Michael Biehn has sex with a terrorist sympathizer - I mean journalist. Once the boning is done, everyone takes a Mediterranean vacation and blows up some dudes, then there's a car chase and they go swimming. The end.

Okay, that's not really the plot. Well...actually that comes pretty close. Biehn and Sheen are the two lieutenants leading a SEAL team on a rescue mission to grab two Navy chopper pilots who were shot down and captured by bad guys. During this mission, Sheen discovers that the bad guys have a sizable cache of Stinger missiles. He tries to blow the cache but fails, and once they make it back to the states, discover that a man they thought to be another prisoner was, in fact, the head bad buy, tricking them into leaving him alone. From there, the SEALs go on a series of missions to hunt down this lead bad guy and find the Stinger missiles. During all of this, Lt. Curran (Biehn) decides to go and talk to Claire, a half-Lebanese journalist who is somewhat sympathetic to the terrorist's cause, or at least understanding of the reasons they are fighting. Claire refuses to reveal what she knows at first, but after the terrorists use one of the Stingers to shoot down a civilian jet, she relents and helps the SEALs track the weapons down. In the film's climax, the SEAL team goes into Beirut to find the missiles and take out the terrorist leader.

The Good: This movie has quite a bit of action, and they made a conscious effort to present how a SEAL team can use many different methods to reach their targets. There's a HALO jump, a submarine insertion with inflatable raft, and a water insertion via helicopter and inflatable raft. You're not sure how they insert on target in the first mission, but the movie makes it clear that the SEALs are trained to get to a target any way imaginable, and I actually think that's one of the cooler aspects of the film. I also like how some effort was made to change out their weapons and gear depending on the mission; for example, when the SEALs go into Beirut, they're wearing fatigues similar to the locals, and carrying AKs - and the two blond-haired members of the team are wearing head scarves to hide their obviously Caucasian hair color. A little detail like that shows to me someone put at least SOME thought into the film. The training sequence was a little goofy, but the bit in the "Kill Room" was actually pretty awesome.

Also, Bill Paxton as Dane, aka "God", the team sniper on the Barrett .50 cal - that was pretty sweet. I can't be sure, but I wonder if that was the first time a Barrett clearly makes an appearance in a movie? The "Cobra Assault Cannons" from Robocop were mocked up Barretts, but in this movie it is clear what the weapon is.

The Bad: Charlie Sheen's character is clearly the Maverick-style hotshot, who's got a great deal of skill and potential, but lets his "need for speed" and the rush of combat outweigh the consequences of his actions.  I'm sure guys similar to him exist in some form, but I have a feeling that his actions would have gotten him washed out of the team really fast, especially since he's an officer, and should know better and be setting a higher standard of professionalism. Beyond that, I found the whole need for Curran and Claire to somehow fall for each other and wind up in the sack together weakened the dynamic she built with them. Why does their relationship have to become sexual? It actually destroyed a lot of her character's credibility, and makes it seem like she gives up the information because of her growing relationship with Curran, not because she wants to stop terrorists from knocking jumbo jets out of the sky.

The Ugly: Having the SEALs play golf after a mission. Really? Killing off the only black guy in the team was also groan-inducing...and of course he's the only one of them who seems to have any kind of long-term romantic relationship. Also, like every other military funeral scene ever filmed, they bury the guy in the pouring rain. In addition, it seemed like the SEALs traveled REALLY light, basically a weapon, a pistol, a handful of magazines, and a grenade or two. I know it's the 90's, but I was hoping for at least a pair of night vision goggles - the closest we get is one guy using a hand-held thermal scope. I think there was more of a desire to make everyone's faces clearly recognizable throughout the film, ergo we don't put them in anything that hides who each person is.

All in all, a pretty fun military action movie. I do wonder if, like Top Gun, this was backed by the military in part as a promotion piece, intended to show just how awesome the SEALs were and up recruitment. One thing that's interesting to note is that the screenplay is co-authored by Chuck Pfarrer, an ex-Navy SEAL himself, who also wrote the screen play for Hard Target. Given the involvement of an actual SEAL, I wonder about the decisions made in terms of the tactics and the story overall; did Pfarrer make most of the decisions, or was he the "realist" who had his ideas shot down by Hollywood suit-types? I'd love to find out (Psssst, me, bro...).

Here's the theatrical trailer for the movie:


Nick Ahlhelm said...

Great movie. Not perfect, but probably the best military action movie of the 90s outside maybe Crimson Tide.

And Navy guys absolutely love the dang thing for obvious reasons.

Brian Drake said...

Oh, wow, I remember this one....I remember how they never really identified the characters so the first couple of times I was like, Who the heck ARE these guys?

The wedding scene was cool with everybody getting beeped, don't forget that one.

One scene a friend thought was funny was when Curran and Claire were out at dinner and Charlie Sheen started yelling at him on the street about being the blanket-blank CIA or something. My friend noticed a, um, spot on the back of Sheen's khakis--you know. We decided that during the argument he had an accident but was too cool to mention it. He was sort of walking funny when he left Curran on the street.

Now you're going to watch the movie again specifically to look at Sheen's rear end, aren't you?

Hank Brown said...

I have to agree, especially about Sheen's character. He wound up getting one of the guys killed over some stupid glory-hound stunt. I think that's when I quit watching.

English Teacher X said...

Check out Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton's reminiscences on making the film and the conflicts about the tone of it:,85963/,75626/

Steven Mitchell said...

My name is Steven, just so anybody reading this actually wants to know who I am. Navy Seals is a fast, effective and by far the best adventure/action/ war kinda movie I've ever seen. Charlie Sheen's Platoon was rather crap but this is the what Platoon should and could have been like and wants to be like. Sheen's character is quirky, foul mouthed, loud and nuts just like me and I think that's great and the action sequences are just badass and the bomb. Lewis Teague's NAVY SEALS is what all action films should be like and it's an excellent film in my opinion and I never get bored of watching it. Brilliant performances by Sheen and Michael Biehn.. Top marks!! 10/10.