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Challenge Met: Heartbreak Ridge is Basically Stripes Without the Funny

May 23, 2011

Last week the Limejuiceboy challenged me to watch a movie.  His choice?  Heartbreak Ridge starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.  (See his reasons for choosing it right here.)  Eastwood plays an old Marine, nearing the end of his military days, who must train a ragtag bunch of misfits to be soldiers.  In the process he learns a little bit about himself.  And wouldn’t you know it?  The misfits do too.  Aww…

I’ll get it right out of the way:  I wasn’t a big fan of this movie.  That’s not to say it’s terrible.  It’s not.  It’s just…mediocre.  The biggest reason for this is that it’s predictable.  Movies that are predictable are boring.  Unfortunately Heartbreak Ridge was no exception.  Here we have the gruff Marine, played by Clint, close to the end of his time in the military.  He’s given some men to train.  Those men, however, are a bunch of slugabeds and layabouts.  Once Clint appears on the scene, bossing them around and telling them to stop being slackers, well…they rebel.  They try ignoring him.  Doesn’t work.  They get some giant bodybuilding type to try to rough him up.  Doesn’t work.  They keep trying different tactics until eventually they relent and start playing by Clint’s rules.  And, as you can guess, they start to like Clint.  And follow Clint.  And stand by Clint, especially as Clint is dealing with his tight-assed superior officer.  Slowly but surely the guys fall in line and learn to be true soldiers.  There’s then a big party when everyone’s dressed up in their best uniforms when a call comes in.  They have to go to war!  They then do so, are forced to apply what they learned from Clint while ignoring what character traits they had prior to Clint, and win the battle.  The boys are now men.  And Clint can retire, happily.  THE END.  Now tell me you didn’t see all of that coming a mile away.

Another issue with the movie that, compounded with the predictability, increased the boredom is its great similarity to other movies.  When I saw the misfit group of would-be soldiers acting out and being generally silly I immediately thought of Stripes.  The entire first half of this movie is essentially Stripes, just without the funny.  I felt like I had seen this many times before.  The only difference is that this was a hell of a lot less enjoyable.  I guess that happens when you replace Bill Murray with Mario Van Peebles though (more on him in a moment).  Heartbreak Ridge takes the similarity one step further by ending the movie in exactly the same way:  getting off a plane on a military tarmac in front of a crowd of cheering civilians.  Yeah.  There’s another scene completely lifted here, but this time it’s from a different movie.  As you read above the guys find out they’re going to war at a party after completing their training.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it’s the same scene from Top Gun.  Both scenes even had a pool!  The moment this scene came on I knew the call to war was only moments away.

Heartbreak Ridge has a problem with tone too.  It starts out with credits rolling over somber war footage.  The images are bleak, the music is bleak…it gives off the vibe of how cruel and difficult war can be.  Then it shifts to the movie proper and gets silly.  This is mostly due to the ‘Duke of Cool’, the ‘Ayatolla of Rock n’ Rolla’, Mario Van Peebles (yeah, that’s what he called himself).  He plays a rock star, of sorts, who sings, dances, goofs off, and does a good job being a bright red pain in Clint Eastwood’s ass.  He’s all sorts of annoying and pushes the movie over the Silly Cliff where it just can’t recover.  There’s a difference between making a character annoying to other characters and making him annoying to the audience.  Here the movie forgot that distinction.  Anyway, once we get to that aforementioned pool party scene the movie shifts away from silliness and back to the cold hard reality of war.  The shift was jarring and the previous silliness made it really hard for me to believe that these guys, including the Peebles, were suddenly capable of not acting like jackasses.  Heartbreak Ridge needed to make a choice here:  either make it fun or make it serious.  Instead it tries to walk that tightrope and it just doesn’t work.

Did I like anything about the movie?  Well, Clint was good, as always.  But he’s exactly what you’d expect.  He’s Clint.  You’ve seen this character before.  The other actors, save the Peebles, were pretty good too.  The direction, the music, editing…all that stuff was pretty decent.  Overall it was a fairly well-made movie.  It just didn’t know what it wanted to be.  And it needed something else to really make the story pop.  To me Heartbreak Ridge was a failure, but an interesting one.  With some minor changes it could have been something much more special.  I give it…

Two Peebles out of four.

Now that I have completed the Limejuiceboy’s movie challenge, I would like to turn the tables and challenge him to do the same.  And this time I’m going to have him watch a movie that’s a favorite of mine:  The Thing. 

Why did I choose it?

  • The premise.  This is the tale of a group of researchers at the South Pole who encounter an alien creature that can mimic them exactly.  Who’s the alien?  Who isn’t?  Who can you trust?  Fear and suspense is around every corner in this movie.  You can’t escape it.
  • The Thing itself.  The special effects may be three decades old, but they still hold up.  There are a few scenes in here that you get a glimpse of the creature and it’s stuff you just won’t forget.  And one scene in particular…  Well, let’s just say the Limejuiceboy will know it when he sees it. 
  • The end.  I won’t spoil it (of course) but The Thing has a very unexpected ending.  It was a courageous choice and I’ll be interested to see what the Limejuiceboy has to say about it.

You got a week, Limejuiceboy!  The challenge is on!  How many Peebles will you hand out?

–Cap’n Blackjack

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