WWII spoof is also pointed satire on today's war

Times Staff Writer

"Military Intelligence and You!" is two movies for the price of one. It's both a loving spoof of World War II films and a pointed satire on America's involvement in Iraq. These two different aims complement each other surprisingly well, the geniality of the spoof making it possible for the satire to effectively hit its targets.

Writer-director Dale Kutzera takes as his starting point actual World War II military training films, specifically 1944's "Resisting Enemy Interrogation," a film so strong it was nominated for the documentary feature Oscar. (It lost to "The Fighting Lady.")

He also has gotten hold of World War II feature combat footage starring such luminaries as Ronald Reagan, Alan Ladd and Elisha Cook Jr., looking a long way from the gunsel he played in "The Maltese Falcon."

Giving this vintage stuff a modern spin is a whip-smart voice-over, read in classic stentorian style by Clive Van Owen. When an American soldier makes an unfortunate mistake and gives in to Nazi interrogation, the narrator totals up the score: "One man dead, the other destined for years of therapy."

Cleverly intercut with this old footage is a modern story shot in crisp black and white. While the old stuff shows how the Germans try and break our boys via devious interrogation, the new footage shows American military intelligence helping us win the war. For, as the narrator helpfully informs us, "what we call military intelligence distinguishes deadly enemies from merely annoying foreigners."

Personifying military intelligence is Maj. Nick Reed (Patrick Muldoon), who is doing his level best to find out the hidden base of the terrifying German "Ghost Squadron" that appears out of nowhere to bomb American fliers.

Also on the American team are the major's former flame, the aptly named Lt. Monica Tasty (Elizabeth Bennett), her current beau Maj. Mitch Dunning (Mackenzie Astin), and the top man himself, Gen. Jake Tasker (John Rixey Moore), who spends a lot of his time changing the threat level from orange to tangerine to butterscotch.

Yes, though this is World War II, an awful lot of the dialogue and voice-over, like Tasty's revelation that she spent the first part of the war "doing my part back home, shopping" sounds suspiciously like the blather we heard in relation to what's happening in Iraq.

So we are treated to lines like "when evil strikes, we fight with the intelligence we have, not the intelligence we'd like to have" and "nobody said this fight would be easy . . . except for the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the head of the F.B.I.," and so on into the night.

What makes these lines so effective is not only the panache with which the actors deliver them but the fact that they don't overwhelm the film. "Military Intelligence's" parallel stories hold just enough interest to keep things from being heavy-handed, especially at the film's brisk 78-minute length.

And every once in a while Kutzera's script comes up with a line that is as significant as it is funny. "Maybe if we thought about the rest of the world every day," someone says. "we wouldn't have to come to its rescue every 20 years." As another of our heroes says, "What good is intelligence if we don't use it?"

What good, indeed.

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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"Military Intelligence and You!" Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes. Exclusively at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.

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