Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when blood-drenched macho buddies fought against indifference, heat, jungle rot, short supplies, vicious Viet Cong and their own inept, surly, multiracial troops to raise the banners of freedom and buddyhood above the hopelessly ungrateful plains of Vietnam.
That’s the general idea behind “Platoon Leader” (citywide), an inept, surly, multi-stereotyped movie for which audiences may also be hopelessly ungrateful.
It’s a weird hybrid: a film that tries to mix the irreverent grunginess and profanity of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” with the gung-ho flag-waving and hero-worship of “Rambo.” Director Aaron Norris (Chuck’s brother) and a passel of writers, all addicted to four-letter words and bellicose platitudes, present us with the manhood rites of young Lt. Jeff Knight (Michael Dudikoff), a blond, budding ubermensch sent to a base camp near the only local village that fallen to the Viet Cong.
If “Platoon” tried to present the dark and light sides of the American forces, “Platoon Leader” has simpler ideas. Gallant young Knight is confronted with demoralized, foul-mouthed troops who smoke pot, die of heroin overdoses and try to shoot him in the back. The enemy is equally bestial; whenever Norris and his writers want to demonstrate that vileness, they obligingly trot out women and children to be slaughtered. These babies and women, sometimes crippled, appear everywhere--even in the middle of a fire-fight in the forest. Afterward, the enemy occasionally pins mimeographed propaganda sheets, in English, on the corpses.
The sporadic patina of realism only serves to emphasize the story’s callous cliches. If these movie makers really want to pay tribute to Vietnam War veterans, why do they portray most of them as buffoons or miscreants? And why contrast them with the godlike rectitude of the stunning young lieutenant and his faithful, growling sidekick, Sgt. McNamara (Robert F. Lyons)--two chums last seen pawing each other happily after returning for another Vietnam tour?
There are low-comedy slapstick gags about mine-sweeping and tender scenes where Knight and the mustachioed, intense McNamara clasp each other, bandages flapping, wounds draining, in tacitly eternal buddyhood.
It’s McNamara who offers the most revealing moment of “Platoon Leader” (MPAA-rated R, for language and violence). He describes himself as being in the idea business, adding that if the local people won’t get the right idea in their heads, he’ll put the right bullet in their bodies. Hmmm.
Was this really the modus operandi of the Vietnam forces? Did they conduct educational sessions and slide shows before resorting to warfare? Even worse, is this the way the film makers see their own mission? After all, they’re in the idea business, too. . . .