*½/**** Image B Sound A Extras B-
starring John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Van Holt
screenplay by James Vanderbilt
directed by John McTiernan
by Walter Chaw It occurred to me about midway through Basic that director John McTiernan, having nowhere to go but up after last year's amusingly noxious Rollerball, was taking a page from the Michael Bay book of filmmaking before realizing that Bay had the McTiernan school (the McTiernan of Die Hard and Predator) to thank for the whole of his austere career. The Hollywood shooting match is an incestual Moebius strip, it seems, and for who was once the best action director in the United States to find himself a hollow shade of not only his past glory, but also Bay, is depressing beyond words. Which is not to say that Basic doesn't start out extremely well: For a full minute, the picture provides a brief history of the French attempt at digging a canal in Panama in the 1880s scored to Bizet's Carmen; the problem is that by the end of Basic, the only justification for the Carmen cue is that it's also packed to the gills with bull.