Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia
Of all the inventions that mankind has made over our long history one of the worse has to be war. Men sit and make decisions that send other, usually young men off to fight and die. Hollywood has traditionally had a different viewpoint of war; it makes a great plot device for film. War movies have always been around and it looks like they will continue for at least for the foreseeable future. In fact the very first film to win the Academy Award for best picture back in 1927 was a war movie, ‘Wings’. In World War II the movie flicks were for the most part a way to show the brave dedication and patriotism of the young men fighting for our freedom. Then with Korea and later Vietnam a new type of war film came around, the anti-war movie. Often these would look at the atrocities of war and how a reasonable man can be pushed to heinous actions. One format of war movie that remains immensely popular is the war action flick. The requirements for this sub genre are fairly easy too obtain. All you really need is a bunch of big guys, bug guns and big explosions. You don’t have to get into the socio-economic or political ramifications of war just the do or die fight to the end action. I have to admit that when I received ‘Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia’ to preview there were a couple of things that gave me a few reservations. First it was a WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment production. I have never been a real fan of professional wrestling so the idea of watching a film cast with their ‘stars’ made me wonder. Then there is the fact that this is a direct to video film relying on the name of another more popular film. Now there is nothing wrong with direct to video; it has become a legitimate venue for the distribution of independent movies. What bothered me was the pseudo sequel aspect of the name. There is no real connection between this movie and the 2001 film ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ except they both take place in a war and they both are concerned with someone trapped deep in enemy held territory. I’ve come across a few of these sequels in name only flicks before and the general rule of thumb is there are bad. Not only do they fail to live up the name the sport but they fall short of making it as working cinema. Still, I pressed on and popped the disc into my player and sat back expecting more of the same. To my pleasant surprise this was not a bad flick. I would have preferred it had a more unique name but as a war action flick it works even if only as a passable popcorn flick for a lazy Saturday after noon with some friends. Handling the actual distribution of the DVD is 20th Century Fox and as usual they do a good job of releasing the flick.
The script is by a first time screenwriter Tobias Iaconis. The job of writing is not all that vital for an action movie of this sort. It has to provide a semi rational reason for the large men to blow things up and get into regularly scheduled gun fights. The author has to pick a war or well known conflict and find some way to put an individual or small group in grave danger. Then it is only a matter of making their rescue of vital importance and you have the story. The original film used Bosnia for a setting. Here it is moved over to Columbia. There is a strong military there, drug lords abound and from the vantage point of the average American it is not a place to be under any rational circumstances. For the rescuers what is required is a well known military unit that is determined, aggressive and extremely well trained in martial arts, explosives and all other forms of weaponry. Here one of the best choices possible was made; Navy SEALS. You don’t have to look much further to find the best of the best our military has too offer. You also need a special type of villain t give our heroes a run for their money. Here we have a Columbian Special Forces unit that is extremely well armed, trained to be deadly and devoid of any moral restrictions. Iaconis does a better job here than is technically required for this kind of flick. He creates a story that holds together and does more than give the audience a little breathing room between battles.
If you are a fan of movies and have been around awhile you must have seen the director here on screen. Tim Matheson has been a working actor for decade; in fact he has been in films and television since he was a small child. There is not a single genre that he has not worked in. One of his most memorable roles was in the classic comedy ‘Animal House’. It is not unusual for an actor to make the move over to direction. There is a saying that all directors want to act and all actors want to direct. Many times this crossover has disastrous results. Even a great actor can find that he makes only a mediocre director. Matherson has been quietly working on honing his skills in this difficult aspect of his profession. The main reason that so many actors fall short when they move to direction is they rush into a large project with little or no experience behind the camera. This was wisely not the case with Matherson. He has been steadily directing since the early eighties. Much of his work has been on popular and well crafted television series such as ‘The West Wing’, ‘The Twilight Zone’ and more recently ‘Burn Notice’. In this work Matherson does an admirable job of forwarding the story line. He paces the film in a logical and precise fashion that gives the audience something to hold on to. His characters are not shown as unthinking hulks that are there to destroy. There is motivation and focus to the action that is simply not present in a lot of action war flicks.
As mentioned one of the initial doubts I had before watching the film was the use of WWE stars in leading roles. Then I remembered another action movie, ‘Predator’ which featured a former WWF wrestler Jessie Ventura. The man was very good in his role and would go on to a successful career in politics. The point is these are intelligent men who are used to a lot of hard work. While a lot of people think that pro wrestling is completely fake just try going into the ring with them for a few minutes. While a lot of the movements they perform are choreographed the punishment they inflict on their bodies is real. Most retired wrestlers are crippled from the build up of years of injuries. I have nothing but respect for them. This translates here. In an interview with a stunt coordinator he mentioned that he would rather work with dancers than martial arts experts. The dances know how to move and hit a mark; the fighters tend to really hit. This same concept transfers nicely to the wrestler here. They know how to create a fight that looks deadly while not actually damaging their opponent. This translates to a level of realism that carries the film.
Don’t dismiss this as another mindless action flick. It will give you the fights and explosions you want but it holds together as a film. Give it a try.