Monday, May 20, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Land of Bad’ is a One Note Diversion

Director: William Eubank
Writers: David Frigerio, William Eubank
Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, Luke Hemsworth

Synopsis: When an Army ODA team is ambushed, their only hope lies with an Air Force JTAC (Liam Hemsworth) and a drone pilot (Russell Crowe) to guide them through a brutal 48-hour battle for survival.

On the surface, Land of Bad, like many action movies inspired by military operations, is perfectly fine. The movie even generates some intense action and builds some genuine suspense. There’s a grittiness to William Eubank’s action diversion because it simply takes no prisoners in the electrifying first act. You wish they knew when to say enough is enough when it came to its sanctimonious final scenes and sensationalized, over-the-top third act.

The film follows Sergeant JJ “Playboy” Kinney (Liam Hemsworth), an Air Force TACP officer, on his Delta Force rescue mission. (One would think they could have found a small part of Chuck Norris, but we will let that go for another time.) He’s nervous, of course, but he’s joining a seasoned team to be by his side. The group leader is Master Sergeant John Sweet (Milo Ventimiglia), AKA “Sugar,” who offers a calming presence to the young officer.

Abel (Luke Hemsworth) and Bishop (Ricky Whittle) are rounding out the team. Their mission is to locate and extract a CIA agent abducted by terrorists in the Philippines. What separates Land of Bad from others is folding in another layer of modern warfare. Heading up that plot is Russell Crowe, who plays Captain Eddie “Reaper” Grimm, a man who can never retire because of a couple of ex-wives, a half-dozen kids, and one on the way.

That’s when Land of Bad thrives when Crowe begins to take over scenes. After an electrifying first act, Crowe’s Reaper develops a rapport with Hemsworth’s Playboy, and they have genuine chemistry. You know, the kind where you place your life in one man’s hands under traumatic circumstances? The action is intense. As much when Playboy is hiding under some brush in a river as it is dodging machine gun bullets during the lone rescue operation. 

This spectacular action scene is heightened by the addition of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) warfare. Other films, such as Good Killer or Eye in the Sky, deal with UAV usage’s moral and ethical dilemmas. Here, it’s pretty simple and cut-and-dry. The purpose is to protect and bring their boys home. It’s impossible to forget what a presence Crowe has on the screen. The type of magnetic performance he can coax out of the demands on which he sits the majority of his role is remarkable.

Land of Bad begins to drag itself down by a couple of things. First, while the film does explain the title, the villains are one-note characters, and you never get to understand their motivation. For that matter, why did they take over the area where the operative is being held? The first and third act scenes involving the Abu Sayyaf rebels are gratuitous. 

The script from Eubank and David Frigerio plants seeds meant to make this type of violence more tolerable. For example, if a soldier is executed in cold blood but he has already had a fatal stomach wound. When Playboy exacts revenge on one of his enemies, it’s fierce and over-the-top. I’m sure the scene was meant to be cathartic in a way for the audience, but the violence reaches jarring levels, to say the least. 

The other issue is that the film tries to portray military commanders and officers in the UAV bunker in Las Vegas as if they don’t care. I can tell you one thing: that would never happen. You don’t live, breathe, and sleep the lifestyle of surviving countless military operations and not take the job seriously. While you can appreciate Crowe’s character’s message for his fellow brothers and sisters in the military, this could have just been communicated through subtext or found another way to bring out that type of pride in service.

At the very least, that type of message brought out my admiration for Land of Bad. Also, the intensity of the first two acts did have me on the edge of my seat. While I have issues with the final 30 minutes, the resolution is eye-rolling; there’s enough to like here, especially Crowe’s turn, as a mild action diversion with its heart in the right place for a mild recommendation.


Grade: C+

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