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The Base
(1999)
 

Director:Mark L. Lester                                
Cast:
Mark Dacascos, Tim Abell, Paula Trickey


There are times when I think there should be some kind of truth-in-advertising laws when it comes to video boxes. One of those times came when I saw the box for The Base on the shelf at one of the video stores in my city. The picture of Mark Dacascos on the cover looks like he's ready to kick serious butt - and why not, since he's done so in previous movies. Actually, which The Base has action scenes, some quite intense, it's not really an action movie. In fact, it could be retitled Donnie Brasco Joins The Army, because of its undercover theme. Since reviewing Ulterior Motives, where I had a similar experience with deceptive video box art, I've almost gotten used to this bait and switch technique, so I wasn't that bothered this time. Especially since there were at least some action scenes, and the fact that the action and dramatic elements were acceptably bound together into a workable whole that ends up being an acceptable way to knock off ninety minutes or so. Still, I realize that some renters might not be pleased with what they get, compared to what they were expecting. So that's why I wrote the above caution, and it's a good opportunity to remind people that video box art and descriptions can sometimes range from half-truths to outright lies.

Of course, Dacascos shouldn't share any of the blame for this deceptive video box. Viewers might be used to him being in 100% action movies, but I think it's good that Dacascos decided to branch out for this movie - in the action genre, it's very easy to get typecast. In The Base, he plays a soldier of fairly high rank named John (*), who barely escapes with his life at the beginning of the movie when his fellow soldiers are wiped out by a drug lord's henchmen in Mexico, where they were to extradite another drug lord back to the U.S. Later back in the U.S., John is told that the drug lords seem to be in a conspiracy with a certain group of soldiers on an army base near the border between California and Mexico. The Pentagon brass, telling him, "You're the best there is!", assign John to go undercover in the base, befriend the members of this group, and if they are guilty, to gather enough evidence against them.

The movie starts bringing in some serious clichés at this point. John meets the base commander, who growls and barely keeps back threats to this new fish. Afterwards, John is placed with Sergeant Gammon (Abell), meeting him for the first time during a self-defense lesson. "First day here, I'll take it easy on you...", and John subsequently gets into fights with the Gammon's group with kendo swords and hand-to-hand fighting. Of course, John holds his own, and he's accepted with open arms by the people he's just pummeled. In the group, John starts his investigation, slowly working up the trust of Gammon and his fellow soldiers, reporting what he finds out to his girlfirend/contact Andrews (played by Trickey), hiding out near the base.

With that in mind, you can probably write the rest yourself, and you'd more or less be right. The Base is a pretty predictable movie, but at least it doesn't pretend it isn't. Though each subsequent scene is expected and unsurprising, each previous event leading to them is written well enough to be fairly believable. We know John has to start lightly, and work up trust with Gammon and the others. His choices for his next actions, and their manner of executing them, are not extremely clever or suspenseful, but they are at least more down to earth, and we can see someone doing them in real life. One thing is added to these predictable scenes that liked was that the screenplay actually did explore what was going on in the protagonist's head during his undercover work. Most screenplays of this kind do not have the protagonist feeling any dilemmas, seeming to consider the assignment a job. Though Gammon is (of course) one of the bad guys, John gets to also see a decent side of Gammon's character during the movie, and complains at one point to Andrews, "It's funny that the only guy who watches my back I'm trying to bust."

He even feels that way despite seeing the evil side of Gammon and being forced to go along with Gammon's bloodthirsty acts, in order to keep undercover. It isn't easy for him to go through with these things, and the screenplay and direction makes that clear. Director Mark L. Lester does manage to generate some of the feel of being on an army base despite it being clear that he was working with a fairly low budget, because much of the movie takes place in the middle of nowhere, or on an army base which curiously seems lacking somewhat in soldiers and equipment. (Perhaps a lot of the budget went away for the prop used during the action climax.)

The action is sporadic, though there are a number of extremely splattery gun wounds (many in slow motion) that will please the patient action fans. And these patient viewers will be rewarded with several well done martial arts sequences. Though these scenes don't go on and on, like other movies, they are fairly tough, and you can almost feel the bones break. One thing I really liked about the execution of these martial arts scenes was that the participants show obvious signs of getting exhausted with all the kicking and punching they are doing, which I think you'll agree is more realistic. Another surprising thing that I liked was the music - this is a rare time when I noticed the score of a movie. The Base's score, composed by Paul J. Zaza, contains more expression than one usually finds in an action movie, especially in the B movie genre. The score is pretty good, though there are quite a few times when music plays for no appropriate reason, or when the music is good but inappropriate for the scene.

I could have done without the girlfriend really being there just for a sex scene, and to be used in the climax in a fashion that B movie addicts will no doubt have already guessed. And I could have done without a climax that's partly just a dull redoing of the old "abandoned warehouse" climax, and has a prominent box on the wall labeled HIGH VOLTAGE (guess what happens). Plus there were a few nitpicks, like at the scene at the drug lab where a group of people in one room didn't seem to hear all the automatic firing happening in the next room. Mostly though, The Base is a workable B movie; nothing to really make you hunt for it in the video stores in your city, but good enough that if you find it during your shelf hunts, you'll probably be satisfied enough with this decent, though unspectacular, rental.
 


(*) Director Lester wasn't paying too much attention at the beginning of the movie, because someone talking to John slips up and calls him Mark.

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See also: Drive, Sabotage, The Five Man Army

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