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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Navy SEALS': It's Dirty Dozen With Flippers

July 20, 1990|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The only pertinent question raised by "Navy SEALS" is this: Now that the Russkies are no longer the bad guys, who will the new movie meanies be?

The answer, alas, would appear to be fanatical Arabs--at least if this movie is any indication. The studio press kit describes the film (citywide) as "the story of courageous young men who conquer challenging, death defying obstacles to help America take charge of its destiny." This no doubt describes the film the studio wanted to make; what's on screen, however, is essentially a mechanical shoot-'em-up about a bunch of hell-raising heroes, the SEALs--an elite covert commando unit started by John Kennedy and still in operation under the jurisdiction of the Navy.

Despite these true-story underpinnings, it's difficult to accept these trained SEALs as anything more than a species of Dirty Dozen. The team leader, James Curran (Michael Biehn) is relatively straight-arrow, but the team's cut-up, the one with the most screen time, is Charlie Sheen's Dale Hawkins, who makes his introduction in the movie jumping off a dangerously high bridge, for sport.

Sheen's character doesn't make any sense, at least any psychological sense; in the various commando raids that we see, in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Cyprus and Beirut, he casually terminates (possibly) innocent civilians without a quiver of conscience. We appear to be looking at some sort of new-style psychopath, but the role is played for laughs, and Sheen has enough gusto that he actually gets them.

But the reactionary empty-headedness of this R-rated movie gets to you, spoiling whatever comic-strip enjoyment it might have had. In the "Rambo" movies, you'd have to be almost as much of a lunkhead as Rambo to take their "politics" seriously. But "Navy SEALS," directed by Lewis Teague, isn't scaled to be a cartoon; it's more like a hypercharged military training film. And the plot, which is about how the SEALs attempt to destroy a cache of Stinger missiles held by Middle Eastern radicals, is too close for comfort. Combatting terrorists should only be this easy.

If we have to have bad guys in international thrillers, maybe it's worth reverting to the heyday of James Bond and bringing back Blofeld and SMERSH and all those pan-global equal opportunity bullies.

'NAVY SEALS'

An Orion Pictures release. Producer Brenda Feigen and Bernard Williams. Director Lewis Teague. Screenplay Chuck Pfarrer and Gary Goldman. Cinematography John Alonzo. Music Sylvester Le Vay. Production design Guy J. Comtois and Veronica Hadfield. Costumes Brad Loman. Film editor Don Zimmerman. With Michael Biehn, Charlie Sheen, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Rick Rossovich, Cyril O' Reilly.

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (under 17 not admitted without accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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