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Monday, October 16, 2006

The Marine

Who would have ever thought it possible that World Wrestling Entertainment could make an engaging feature film that even a novice to the wrestling field and its’ hierarchy of celebrity could thoroughly enjoy? This week’s underdog at the box office, The Marine, is now playing at the Essex Cinemas with barely a whimper of promotion, but despite that usual indication that there’s a stinker in the can, this time the lack of advertising must be because the entirety of the budget was blown (literally) on all the incendiary devices the producers could scrounge up to make this the type of action flick that critics love to call “explosive.”

I’ll be completely honest here. I had never heard of John Ceda, the star of The Marine, and despite his extensive credits playing (?) or actually wrestling as “himself” for the WWE he was a complete stranger to me. I cringed during the opening credits that featured a black screen, fading to an American flag with Ceda in full military drag saluting in the corner of the screen. Oh dear. It looked like a recruitment poster for the Marine Corps. I began to squirm in my seat, in fear that I was about to see something that would arouse Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, but leave me rolling my eyes at the sheer corny Midwestern hokum it was going to try to sell us. I was wrong.

In reality, despite its’ opening prologue set in Iraq, the movie should more accurately be titled The Ex-Marine. Despite the brief sequence in Iraq, showing Ceda’s character, John Triton (how butch is that?) kicking al qaeda butt and rescuing a half-dozen of his fellow soldiers just seconds before they were to be beheaded, this leads to his being discharged from the Corps since he acted against orders. Apparently the highers-up were more interested in following protocol than recognizing heroism, so Triton is out of the service and back home in South Carolina with his hot wife, Kate (Kelly Carlson; tv’s
“Nip/Tuck"), and now looking for a job.

Personally, I am not very pleased with Ms. Carlson because of some insensitive comments she made at thehe time of director/actor/activist Christopher Reeve’s death. For reasons that only she must find compelling, she took *that* moment in history to give a national interview, and while the rest of the country mourned the loss of this true American hero and inspiration to millions, she voiced an insensitive minority opinion, holding him responsible for his own lack of skill and focus while horseback riding, basically saying he had no one to blame for his quadriplegia but himself. Okay, so while that IS real life and this IS the movies, I still knew I wasn’t going to feel too bad for whatever might befall her in this

Sure enough, as lucky as she may have been for getting to dance around the house almost naked with scrumptious Cena, she soon finds herself in the wrong place at
the wrong time as a group of murderous jewel thieves on the run get trigger happy at a gas station where she and John have stopped to fuel up on their way to a weekend vacation in the mountains. Triton is disabled with a blow to the head by a fire extinguisher swung his direction before he can react, giving the crew a chance to escape, but not
before blowing up the entire building by lighting the gas pumps afire and snatching Kate as a hostage.

Robert Patrick (Flags of Our Fathers) is the scurrilous leader of this ragtag bunch of robbers he has no qualms about killing his own if he thinks they need it or it makes for a good cinematic moment. In some ways this helps because Triton (naturally) survives the gas station blast and follows in hot pursuit after the cretins and as the gang dwindles it
leaves him less enemies to fight and overcome along the way.

In short order all of the parties involved are without vehicles (but not before the apropos car/truck chase through construction sites, off roads, and over cliffs as dictated by the Rules of all Action Movies for Those with Testosterone). They are left to wade and wander through the backwoods and swamps of South Carolina, here played by the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia, for some reason. While they paused occasionally to slap Kate and argue amongst themselves, I did take one run to the Ladies Room. There was so much testosterone flowing in this feature that when one character told another he needed to “grow a pair” I thought I’d better check to make sure that I hadn’t just through secondary exposure. Fortunately, it doesn’t work like smoke,
and I was safe, though to be sure I did slap on an extra Estrogen patch when I got home. Menopausal women have enough
problems with moustaches. I don’t need help from movies like this!

Obviously, everything is bound to come to a head in a rather unpleasant exchange that is going to end badly and with lots of explosions and gunfire. Nobody ever has their final rendezvous point in
these films in a quiet library or a meadow of daisies. They always pick refineries, steel plants full of molten iron, that sort of scenario where you can pretty much go “oh oh” as soon as you see the place, and this is no different. Every building, vehicle, barrel,and day player might as well have a fuse sticking out of them.

The delight of the movie is not so much in its’ cookie cutter formula but in the funny little comedic moments that are littered throughout. For instance, as the gang of blood-thirsty killers is driving at least a hundred miles an hour down highway trying to escape the ever-pursuing Cena, one of the backseat henchmen comments “He’s still coming! He’s like a Terminator!” followed with an immediate close-up cut to Robert Patrick, his eyebrow arched and his mouth in a knowing
smirk. Patrick, of course, was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ultimate nemesis, the T-1000, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day way back in 1991. Still, the funniest scenes involve Anthony Ray Parker (The Matrix), as the constantly obsessed African American member of the gang who is first mortified at the idea of being forced to drive a mini-van (“Black men do NOT drive mini-vans!”) and later moved at the most inappropriate time possible to confess a particularly painful memory of his one trip to summer camp as a ten-year-old boy when the friendly camp
counselor Skip became a tad too friendly and “taught (me) things…” Where some of these odd out-of-nowhere additions come from is anybody’s guess, but they are hilarious and so surprising, especially coming from the likes of psychotic killers on the lam. Patrick’s impromptu indecent proposal to Kate, for example, is done mostly with facial charades so his gal-pal and fellow slayer Angela (Abigail Bianca; Liquid Bridge) won’t catch on even though she is standing just a few feet away. Apparently even this Charlie Manson wannabe has someone he’s scared of ~ his common (out)law missus.

Director John Bonito, in this, his feature film debut, does a great job with the action, giving The Marine the feeling of “old school” action flicks like Rambo or Commando rather than the cut-and-slash “shaky cam” models of today, like Crank. It is not out for Oscars but is strictly meant for entertainment, and Bonito is sharp enough to know where his (and his players’) talents lie. He gives the best lines to the practiced actors and leaves Cena to do what he does best. There is no heavy-lifting involved in acting,
and so Cena is best used in scenes showing off his physicality, and he
certainly has that. Better to see the studmuffin sweat, grunt, kick and fight and leave the complicated things like sentences to the experienced actors.

Overall, The Marine is definitely a “guy movie” but take it from this old chick, and give it a look-see at the
Essex Cinemas. It’s popcorn for the mind, but it is a tasty treat even if it isn’t pâté de foie gras. Enjoy!

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