Friday, October 29

Some quick thoughts on Uncommon Valor (1983)

Gene Hackman stars as a father with a missing-in-action son from the Vietnam War who decides to mount a rogue rescue. Assembling the POW's old squad years later, he and the group train for weeks in a scale replica of the camp funded by a wealthy entrepreneur (Robert Stack). Of course, things don't go exactly as planned once they launch into the real mission.

Being perfectly blunt, the intellectual depth I prefer from this type of movie can be likened a neanderthal picking a thorn out of his big toe. Not an enormous Marlon Brando synthesizing Vietnam, Private Pyle go out strange, or the realization that Sam Mendes and Jake Gyllenhaal just wasted two hours of my life. I want macho bullshit so thick you could take a butter knife to the screen and slather the scrapings onto a hunk of Texas toast. A festering stockpile of Vietnamese soldiers with boyish facial hair and a multitude of fresh holes blown through their chest cavities. Lastly, straw hut destruction of an escalating enormity amidst jungle eradication that would make environmentalists shit themselves with rage.

Given the presence of Gene Hackman and Uncommon Valor being based on a true story, I've always pegged this Ted Kotcheff film as a "serious war picture" sight unseen. Maybe this one seemed more timely when first released, but after watching this last night, it's your average POW green inferno actioner. Even with Hackman flexing his acting dexterity at certain points, there's no deeper message or emotional impact with regards to the Vietnam War's missing. Stallone's reprisal as Rambo two years later actually does a superior job of implanting the POW theme into an explosive guy flick.

That doesn't mean Kotcheff's film, probably made solely from the success of his prior First Blood (1982), can't be a fun time. The rather far-fetched proceedings are bolstered by a supporting gaggle of familiar faces. Fred Ward (Tremors), Randall 'Tex' Cobb (Raising Arizona), Tim Thomerson (Trancers), Harold Sylvester (Griff from Married with Children), Robert Stack, and a young Patrick Swayze all make for an easy recommendation. We even get to hear Stack tersely say "fuck you"; a treat for those who grew up with his trademark voice on Unsolved Mysteries.

Then we have Mr. Roll Fizzlebeef himself, Reb Brown, star of such essentials as Space Mutiny, Yor, the Hunter from the Future, and Strike Commando. Brown's character, Blaster, is an easygoing explosives expert turned BMX pro after the time serving his country. It's otherworldly seeing Brown share the screen with Hackman, relay two meaty monologues, and see the focus shift like he's the star during his final minutes on-screen. The dirty secret is that Brown's performance is actually good and acts as proof that he could stand with his fellow character actors. And yes, Reb does bust out one of his patented "blargh!" wails, but you gotta wait for it.

Uncommon Valor isn't what I expected in a pleasant way. It's not a great dumb action flick, the action quota is mostly saved for the satisfying climax, but the one-dimensional characters are made inoffensive by the actors in their skin. What would seem like important aspects are either gleened over, rushed through, or somewhat forgotten about. It's evident this film was the basic formula many low-budget Italian rip-offs strived toward instead of working with the previous, unreachable Apocalypse Now template. One will also probably want to dig around to learn the real story. CIC's Japanese VHS, re-titled Hell's Seven, offers no advantage over the domestic versions with a full screen version. 

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