July 2, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Tunnel Rats

Title: Tunnel Rats
Starring: Michael Pare, Wilson Bethel, Mitch Eakins, Erick Eidem, Brandon Fobbs, Jane Le, Scott Ly, Ricky Marquette
Written & Directed by: Uwe Boll
Released: Boll AG Productions (2009)
Genre: War; Action

When there are Vietnam war movies out there in the pantheon of cinematic history like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, it seems like an exercise in futility to make another. I mean, in the war movie genre only World War 2 is used as backdrop more than the Vietnam war. Many directors have moved on to Iraq and Afghanistan for subject matter, so it struck me as an uphill climb for Uwe Boll to write, produce, and direct one more movie that explores 1968 and the war in Vietnam.

As it stands, I think Uwe Boll goes out of his way to stand out with his movie Tunnel Rats by focusing on one facet of the war, in this case the underground tunnels exploited by Vietnamese soldiers as means of guerrilla assault on American soldiers, and then ramping up the violence and practical effects to a degree I can't remember seeing in a war movie since Saving Private Ryan. Granted, Boll's movie lacks the blockbuster quality that Spielberg's masterpiece had, but Boll pulls few punches and pulls the camera away from the splatter and gore even fewer times.

Please don't ask me to remember any of the character's names though, because I can't. The soldiers depicted in the film felt so generic as a whole that I had a hard time giving a damn about any of them. They were fodder basically, in a horror film disguised as a war epic. Whatever character development occurs in the first twenty minutes of the film is thrown right out the window when the bullets start flying. And while there's supposed to be some kind of time-share with scenes involving the Vietnamese soldiers, in order to show both sides of the war equally, there is even less consideration afforded to them.

Now, while the character and story are not exactly what I call deep, the action is plentiful and feels quite visceral. I am unsure how accurately the tactics of American and Vietnamese soldiers is depicted in the film, what with some soldiers shooting from the hip and squatting on rocks rather than taking cover behind them, but so many scenes are filmed so furiously it's easy not to care.

The idea of the tunnels, which were used for communications, transport, concealment, and ambush, does stand out as an intriguing one. The claustrophobic nature of the tunnels is captured to great effect, and later scenes involving select characters seeking escape through them are suspenseful and harrowing.

I just wish there had been a tighter focus on a few of the characters. Maybe Boll wanted to keep some distance from the characters because this is a body count kind of movie where characters on both sides are dropping like flies. You don't know who, if anyone, is going to be getting out of there alive when the end credits roll. That's fine, but I wanted to care about at least one of the them and I didn't ... not even in the closing scenes.

If there was higher meaning infused in this movie, it was lost on me.

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