Assault on VA-33: Code Red White & Blue, by Dayne Linford
Americans are so besotted with the notion of our military righteousness that we’ve sat through innumerable terrible, ostensibly patriotic films for decades, stretching back in a long tradition almost as august as the military itself. We’ll endure the worst dialogue, the dumbest caricature, if but once we get to join in that “Hooah!” following a particularly snappy comeback or bone-breaking hit, and know we’re contributing to whichever cause is popular at the moment. Sure, there’s plenty of films striking a more thoughtful tone, but, unfortunately for everyone involved, Assault on VA-33 brings neither thought nor the “oh yeah!” satisfaction Americans crave. It is just another entry in the military glorification canon, offering nothing else and little enough of that.
Starring Sean Patrick Flanery of Boondock Saints fame as veteran Jason Hill, Assault on VA-33 concerns the takeover by terrorists of a non-descript VA hospital in Buffalo. For motivations both various and confused, they plan to capture high-ranking General Welch (Gerald Webb) during his routine psych eval, apparently so the leader can try and rescue his brother, captured some time prior. Regardless, following his own therapy appointment for PTSD, Hill gets suspicious and decides to investigate, becoming, you named it, the fly in the ointment. Unfortunately, the reflections of Die Hard hardly stop there, ranging from rather anodyne choices like having one of the hostages be Jason’s wife, Jennifer (Gina Holden), to really bizarre symmetries, such as having an entire floor of a fully functioning VA hospital be conveniently and inexplicably under construction. To double down on the misfortune, the construction set up here doesn’t create an interesting action sequence, but instead allows tarps to go up everywhere and appear to hide undressed sets.
This abbreviated homage illustrates a persistent problem throughout the film–we can see what it cost and it’s not much. Lit flatly, staged as simply as possible, the vague notion of “office” doing a lot of legwork in trying to establish multiple locations, it has all the hallmarks of a rushed production. Many great movies have been made on shoestring-or-less budgets. Hell, truly great movies have been made limited to the confines of a single apartment, let alone an entire hospital. In a film whose very name recalls the tradition of doing more with much less, this lack of resources merely supplements a similar lack of craft, and glaringly highlights fundamental script flaws, which make themselves clear in every scene.
In the rare moments we’re trying to avoid blaring clichés, mealy-mouthed dialogue abounds. Characters lack specificity, or have the completely wrong kind – an ostensible 14 year old, played by an adult, written like she was maybe 8. Beyond dialogue, the pacing struggles and characters are resolved at random throughout. Our general, who is supposed to be wrestling with the consequences of a badly executed mission? The therapist he’s visiting simply assures him he’s fine, and whatever conflict was there immediately dissipates. That this is followed by his capture, much later than the initial takeover in the simultaneously very busy and very slow plotting of this film, is all the more egregious – instead of carrying that tension through into a confrontation that should be all about that mission, the general is resolved, convinced he was in the right the entire time. Even worse is Hill’s own struggle with PTSD and injuries from his service, both of which evaporate late in the film in a moment slightly recalling their origin. Fixed! So many of the issues with this film, highlighted in this persistent refusal to engage the actual questions underlying its plot devices, are fundamental on a deep level, questioning what reason the piece has for even existing in the first place. Its motley group of terrorists are Die Hard derivatives in the worst way, half-baked maybe mercenaries with no psychological depth, whose leader, effecting a Russian accent, is vaguely associated with bombings in Moscow. Any conception of what he’s actually about is quickly brushed aside, as well as any larger conception of the U.S. or terrorism and how they operate in the world. The point is to exist and do things like they do in other movies. That all this boils down to a pro forma “thank you for your service” type is almost offensive in its easy carelessness, a rote sentiment with much too little thought to support itself. If we must continue this tradition, a new addition might be some worthwhile thought on the subject at hand, at least so we can have a little conversation in between the comebacks and body blows.