*½/**** Image B- Sound B Extras A+
starring Matt McCoy, Glenn Plummer, Corbin Bernsen, Dartanyan Edmonds
screenplay by Steve Latshaw
directed by Jay Andrews
by Walter Chaw I was torn, when trying to choose the definitive quote from Jay "Beastmaster 2" Andrews's Rangers, between:
"They played us like cards, Scott. Nothing matters as long as they keep the game going."
"I brought you two hash browns. I always like two. Starches up your day."
Both are equally adept at explaining and summarizing the viewing experience that is Rangers.
There's a certain kind of inexplicable and perverse satisfaction in discovering that a film that reminds one of Chuck Norris's Invasion U.S.A. has, somewhere down the backstretch, actually become a more irksome experience than Invasion U.S.A.. Rangers is so bad it makes Gymkata look like Lawrence of Arabia; it also happens to be the funniest movie that I've seen since End of Days.
Opening with a group of elite Army Rangers, led by the remarkably wooden Broughton (Matt McCoy of L.A. Confidential), as they're debriefed in a C-130 transport plane buzzing over the Persian Gulf, Rangers gets us going on familiar ground. Rangers, however, has the unique distinction of featuring a C-130 that sports a hold with a concrete floor and the exact dimensions of somebody's garage. An already fuzzy mission to extract some Osama Bin Laden-esque terrorist kingpin from an undefined Middle Eastern country gets even muddier when it's revealed by CIA operative Shannon (Glenn Plummer) that the powers-that-be in Washington have tipped off the terrorist to the Rangers' top-secret raid. We discover later that the CIA wishes the terrorist to gain prestige by killing a band of Rangers, but we're never given any insight as to why a terrorist with higher prestige is desirable. Frankly, I was relieved when no attempt at an explanation was made.
The Rangers accomplish their mission (largely because the terrorist, although he's been tipped off, appears woefully unprepared for an assault) and return to the United States with the bad guy in custody. Sadly, CIA operative Shannon is abandoned in the hasty retreat. Already embittered and paranoid, Shannon, having his fears and suspicions confirmed by his marooning in Jordan/Egypt/Palestine, strikes a deal with the terrorist's brother and agrees to return to the U.S. to infiltrate the Pentagon, discover the whereabouts of their abducted leader, and seek explosive vengeance on the people responsible for leaving him in enemy hands. Hilarity ensues.
Longtime offender McCoy is hysterical as the stony-faced Broughton, while Glenn Plummer fares somehow worse as a sort of low-rent Joe Morton. Dartanyan Edmonds (the victim, possibly, of an illiterate mother who heard an audiobook of The Three Musketeers), appears as the requisite wise-cracking African-American cut up, yet seems to have lied on his resume about having comic timing, and Melissa Brasselle as Broughton's buxom, eternally bellybutton-showing skank wife at least has the career insight to sport a last name that mnemonically reminds of "brassiere."
After its ridiculous prologue (and before its ridiculous conclusion), Rangers reveals itself to be not a military bonhomie flick, but rather a strange variation on the slasher genre. Shannon, once back on American soil, hunts down and murders his superiors and (innocent) teammates in a manner best described as "indiscriminately vengeful" and "baffling." Consider a scene where he somehow infiltrates the Pentagon (which, I was surprised to learn, is composed of roomfuls of pink Dilbert cubicles), over-kills someone with a bazooka shell, and then sits at an archaic computer to download a Top Secret File onto a standard 3.5" floppy. Shannon apparently is not only able to break a window and climb into the Pentagon, but also blow a man-sized hole in an outside wall of the Pentagon without drawing the attention of any security personnel. I'm reasonably certain that if I were to blow a hole in my own house the police would show up before I had time to turn on a Commodore 64, much less download something from it.
As amazing as that seems, though, it's not quite as amazing as the fact that the bazooka is able to fire off nuclear warheads (ignoring its magical reappearance after it's been discarded). When the weapon's employed later in the film to fire a shell into a house, the humble suburban domicile explodes with such an extended and furious fervour as to make one wonder if someone had been stockpiling surplus napalm in the crawlspace. I was reminded, curiously enough, of the scene in Die Hard 2 in which a plane that crashes because it's out of fuel explodes in a satisfyingly bloated and violent fireball.
Spending too much time discussing the hilarious plot inconsistencies and flat impossibilities (three WWII-era landing crafts full of terrorists make an amphibious landing on a beach in D.C. which is not as puzzling as the contention that these three flat-bottomed personnel carriers could have made the trip from the Persian Gulf undetected and in ten days), is an instantly vestigial exercise. Rangers, working from a script that is too unnatural to be ad-libbed (and too terrible to be written by a native speaker) and performed with such a studied artificiality that it comes off like marionette theatre, makes no pretense of coherence. It's a clue, nay, a warning, that Corbin Bernsen gives the best performance of the film as a country-fried Senatorial "Deep Throat." His reaction to his career being violently ended is a sort of resigned shrug--which, I imagine, mirrored my own. All the same, Rangers is the most entertaining ninety minutes that I've spent with a film in ages. It's hard to dislike the most gratuitous misuse of buses since Red Heat.
The Fox DVD release is curiously competent given its content. The anamorphic widescreen video transfer is crisp if unspectacular, and the Dolby 5.1 surround sound, especially during the improbably enthusiastic explosions, is lush and more than adequate. My cup of coffee (the first of four) shivered appreciably a time or two in time with the onscreen pyrotechnics while making me jittery enough not to be overly curious about when Palestine decided to employ weathered red brick in several blocks of their architecture.
In the wholly unexpected (but welcome) commentary track featuring director Andrews and star McCoy, it is revealed that most of the special-effects sequences were lifted from stock footage shot for Navy SEALs and Delta Force 2, explaining, if not forgiving, the myriad continuity errors. Andrews and McCoy have a charming rapport that reminds a little of the irreverent and informative commentary track recorded by Kurt Russell and John Carpenter for The Thing. It's clear that the pair is aware of the kind of pap in which they were involved, and they provide enough self-deprecating behind-the-scenes nuggets (including a hilarious sidebar about a secondary actor and the recently-released disaster Town and Country), that a second trip through the film with the pair is extremely satisfying and, ultimately, educational. The yak-track for Rangers, in other words, is as good as I've heard for a film of any quality. The DVD is rounded out by cast and crew bios and an amiably inept distributor's trailer. Originally published: May 17, 2001.
112 minutes; R; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Fox