Credit: The Avenue
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film Genre Views

Land of Bad — William Eubank

February 16, 2024

Speeding right past Truffaut’s famous “there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie” dictum, William Eubank’s new gung-ho military action-thriller Land of Bad declares itself — in no uncertain terms — loudly and proudly pro-war. A veritable taxonomy of war film cliches, Land of Bad doesn’t suggest that warfare is a mighty crucible that turns boys into men — it states it bluntly as part of the text. The film is equally concerned with how battle cements bonds of brotherhood between warriors that only the few and the proud can begin to comprehend. It’s about as ideologically sound as an episode of 24 or one of the million CBS procedurals that blare out pro-authority propaganda to passive audiences on a weekly basis. Having said all that, for fans of propulsive, tough action movies, Land of Bad delivers the genre goods. Do with this dichotomy as you will.

Liam Hemsworth stars as “Playboy” Kinney, who is introduced agonizing over which kind of breakfast cereal to grab for a snack. He’s suddenly whisked into active duty, attached to a small group of Delta soldiers who are flying off to infiltrate an enemy position and rescue a captured military asset. Kinney is their designated drone operator, communicating with home base and providing air support. After a Halo jump out of their aircraft, the squad traverses dense forest to reach their target. The journey gives the men plenty of time to lecture Kinney about the nature of war, and how bombing targets via drones isn’t the same as killing someone up close, with your own hands (undoubtedly true, although perhaps not as inspirational a pep talk as the movie thinks it is). The Delta guys, led by Master Sergeant “Sugar” (a buffed-up Milo Ventimiglia), poke fun at the rookie in their midst; meanwhile, all of this is intercut with scenes back at drone HQ. There, a gregarious and portly Russell Crowe (dubbed “Reaper”) complains about his basketball team getting eliminated from March Madness and waits for news about his current wife’s impending labor (he’s been married four time before, we are informed). The cross-cutting is jarring at first, with the Crowe scenes leaning more toward broad comedy while the soldiers talk is about more serious stuff, but it’s all business once they finally reach their target. Everyone locks in, and the movie finally gets to the action.

Eubank, who helmed the supremely satisfying sci-fi creature feature Underwater, knows his way around a set piece. The assault on the enemy compound goes south quickly, with hitherto unknown tunnels allowing combatants to get the drop on the Delta guys, while cars with heavy guns and RPGs appear out of nowhere. Our intrepid heroes are outmanned and outgunned, and soon enough Kinney is on his own. With only Reaper to communicate with, a desperate Kinney marches through forest to reach an extraction point, only to find himself surrounded by enemy forces. The American chopper can’t land, and Reaper calls in a missle attack to provide cover for Kinney to escape once again. It’s all impressively mounted, with huge, practical FX and real explosions, plus some stunning nighttime photography courtesy of cinematographer Agustin Claramunt. The rest of the film details Kinney’s continued efforts to evade capture, while he bonds with Reaper via headset. It’s all of bunch of brothers-in-arms, macho nonsense, but Hemsworth and Crowe do their part to sell their roles. There are a few surprises in store, as it turns out that one member of the Delta squad isn’t dead after all, and Crowe gets a sub-plot where he butts heads with an idiot supervisor who doesn’t understand the severity of the situation. But really, it’s all a framework for Eubank to speed run through every kind of military film, with nods to American Sniper and Lone Survivor melded with various jungle survival flicks, and finally (and most effectively) the close quarters combat so familiar from DTV cinema. By the time Kinney is finally killing a man with his bare hands and not with the safe, long distance of a drone, it’s clear that the film is mostly interested in his self-actualization through extreme violence against a vague, unknowable enemy. What’s more American than that?

DIRECTOR: William Eubank;  CAST: Russell Crowe, Liam Hemsworth, Luke Hemsworth, Milo Ventimiglia;  DISTRIBUTOR: The Avenue;  IN THEATERS: February 16;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 50 min.