Something bad happened during a hurricane-soaked maneuver for Special Forces trainees in Panama, and most of the team is dead. Now it’s up to a rogue ex-Army ranger (John Travolta) and a by-the-book Army captain (Connie Nielsen) to interrogate the two uncooperative survivors and uncover the truth. But you can’t handle the truth! — or more to the point, it’s not worth the effort.
Basic is another depressingly empty action thriller built, as is the prevailing trend, from an inconsequential progression of deceptions and Rashomonic conflicting narratives. Who’s really dead, and why? Who cares! That’ll be $8.50, please.
The don’t-give-it-away plot reversal has rarely felt so desperate or looked so epilepsy-inducing: Minus any energy in the script by James Vanderbilt, director John McTiernan throws all his restless cinematic talent into manufacturing visual movement with lots of blinking lights in the dark. Samuel L. Jackson limits his vocal range to a madman’s holler as the sadistic training sergeant. Travolta’s direct-to-video performance is matched by Nielsen’s balky surrender to a Southern accent. As an extraneously gay survivor of the debacle, Giovanni Ribisi shows disturbing symptoms of incipient Rod Steigerism. There is, however, one faint sign of self-awareness in all this hooey: The movie opens and closes with excerpts from Ravel’s ”Boléro” — you know, that musical phrase that repeats over and over, basically going nowhere.