Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Search and Destroy

(William Fruet, 1979)
For once, what's wrong ideologically is precisely what's wrong cinematically: Jong Soo Park's vengeful Vietnamese guy isn't a character, he's an idea. Screenwriter Dan Enright (yeah, the game show magnate, who also co-produces with partner in crime Jack Barry) tries to complicate things by making "Assassin" a collaborator/politician instead of a soldier; there are fleeting parallels between his inhumane conduct and that of the American GIs, and in a lonely nod at characterization Park is revealed to be some kind of Christian. But Fruet's otherwise evident facility with actors is wasted on this stoic killing machine, and the vitriol of lead cop George Kennedy leaves no doubt that the man is symbolic of the country and the conflict is symbolic of the war: the extended confrontation between Park and vet Perry King is explicitly designed to be cathartic, not problematizing. Not that the film doesn't hold your attention; there's thrills and fascination to be had with the restaging of the war around the familiar terrain of Niagara Falls, and the subtext of military traumas that can't be shaken off does resonate in its typically insufficient way. But with two of the four targets offed by the end of the opening credits, there's not quite enough going on, and plausibility issues keep intruding on the action. The final battle in the jungle-like park is a great idea poorly realized, as what might have been an emotion-charged reckoning between two actual characters is reduced to an excessively vague exchange of bullets and blows.

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