“Basic” opens with a Predator-like opening sequence--an elite team of military personnel, Army Rangers, parachute into a rain forest during a routing training exercise. Things start to go wrong and, after a mutiny against the sergeant (Samuel L. Jackson), the team turns on each other.
Drug enforcement agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) is then brought in to find out, with the help of Lt. Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen), what exactly happened during a dark, rainy night in the forest.
James Vanderbilt's script, which jumbles time elements so often your head spins, moves back and forth between two soldiers who survived. We're asked to make up our minds about whose story we should believe.
But as is the case in many of these plot-heavy thrillers, the filmmakers work so hard to outdo themselves (and stay ahead of the audience) they fumble the ending. By the time “Basic” reaches its improbable finale, Vanderbilt and director John McTiernan have played with our expectations so freely that they don't have a leg to stand on.
Travolta, who can't seem to find a script he doesn't like, powers through the movie in his “General's Daughter” mode, clinching his facial muscles to show Hardy's determination instead of revealing what makes him tick. Nielsen is as lifeless as ever. She's a poor man's Charlize Theron who is better suited to modeling than acting. It could be said that Jackson is the best thing about “Basic”--his emotional firepower gives his sergeant credibility--but that's not saying much. Starring John Travolta, Connie Nielsen and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by John McTiernan. Written by James Vanderbilt. Produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnie Messer, Michael Tadross and James Vanderbilt. A Columbia release. Thriller. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 98 min