A low-budget thriller with an A-list cast, Basic follows a split-narrative form. The action is divided between the events in a jungle during a routine training mission lead by West (Samuel L. Jackson) and the interrogation of the survivors of said mission by Hardy (John Travolta), a former Marine who hates being called ˜sir.’ As he slowly tries to find out the truth from marines Dunbar (Brian Van Holt) and Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) with the help of the uptight Osborne (Connie Nielsen), he slowly begins to unravel a potential plot that throws the whole platoon under the spotlight.
The problem with twisty thriller films like Basic is that they rely so heavily on the twists and turns that there’s always the danger of over-saturation. Just when you think you know where it’s going it pulls the rug out from under you, but not in a convincing, intelligent manner, but rather to simply disorientate you and draw your attention away from the pointlessness of the plot.
Directed by Die Hard and Predator supremo John McTiernan, Basic shows a workmanlike approach to direction, which matches its workmanlike performances from Travolta and Jackson. The latter is guilty of simply channeling a cheap imitation of Jules from Pulp Fiction but in a far less convincing scenario. Meanwhile Nielsen struggles to keep up with even the most mundane of dramatic nuances, flapping unconvincingly throughout. It is only character actor Ribisi who tries something a little bit unusual and while it’s over-the-top scenery-chewing, it is at least mildly entertaining.
Overwhelmed by its own self-importance, with no value beyond the initial viewing, Basic highlights just how far the once-great McTiernan has fallen and might partially explain why he hasn’t directed a film since. It also adds credence to the argument that John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson will put their names to any film, regardless of quality.