Behind Enemy Lines

Director: Mark Griffiths                
Chris Mulkey, Thomas Ian Griffiths, Mark Carlton

When Orion Pictures went bankrupt in the early 1990s, it seemed like there was no possible way they could resurrect themselves from such a large financial hole. Incredibly, Orion managed to stay active during the next few years, slowly releasing a backlog of (mostly) forgettable movies to weak box office. And even after that, they somehow managed to start going into production again, but the grosses for movies like Gang Related and Eight Heads In A Duffel Bag were so poor, it appears that maybe Orion (except in the distribution area) may be dead once and for all. One of the reasons I believe this is that they never got around to releasing in theaters two movies - Retroactive (which I will probably review in the future) and Behind Enemy Lines. After watching Behind Enemy Lines, I would have to agree with Orion's decision not to release this to theaters. This is not a theatrical quality movie - in fact, it doesn't even resemble a made-for-video movie of reasonable quality! Here's proof that a big budget and a major studio does not mean that a movie is automatically better. What's really strange is that MGM/UA (which bought Orion) stuck their logo on before Orion's, meaning that at one time MGM/UA was considering releasing this to theaters. Fortunately, there was one person along the way who seems to have taken a good look at this movie and hereafter sentenced the movie to a quiet death on video.

The movie stars Thomas Ian Griffiths, who I admired in Ulterior Motives, but a lot of that came from the fact that he had a good script to work with there. That's the only conclusion that I can come up for Griffiths' blank performance here. I say "blank", because try as I might, I simply can't remember how Griffiths acted in this movie. If it had been an exceptional performance, I would have remembered it; I would even have remembered his performance if it had been bad. Nothing about his character's personality stands out in any way at all, and it's not that much easier to remember anything he does in the movie. That's why in situations like this I'm especially thankful that I jot down notes when I watch a movie I'm going to review on this web page. So, let's see...hmmm... Okay - Griffiths plays "Mikey", some special ops guy who, with his partner "Jones" go Behind Enemy Lines - more specifically, at the Chinese/Vietnam border where a General Tran is about to get a delivery of nuclear triggers from the Chinese. In the ensuing chaos of boring explosions and gunfights, Jones is captured by the Vietnamese and Mikey manages to run off with the nuclear triggers, though is forced to hide them to ensure his getaway. A year later, Mikey gets a visit from his former commander, who shows him a photo of Jones in a prison camp where nuclear weapons are supposedly being manufactured (I guess the guards couldn't make a living on cigarette bribes from the prisoners.) Mikey's commander then tells him, "It seems no one who goes there comes back alive," a line that's been said by other movies so much that it's no longer funny.

Mikey goes to Vietnam, posing as a tourist, and meets his old Vietnamese friend and wheeler-dealer Phred (moonlighting from Doonesbury?), but before Mikey can do anything, he's framed for drug possession and is jailed by his old adversary General Tran, who starts to put the pressure on Mikey to tell him where the triggers are. This includes the standard prison sequence where Mikey is put into a holding cell filled with hostile prisoners and must fight off one particular big prisoner who is not wearing his shirt. Meanwhile, Mikey's soldier friends find out about his imprisonment, and decide to pull off their own Escape From El Diablo and break him out. What skilled friends; they drag along Mikey's clueless and skilless sister along, and along the way do things like group-mooning a pursuing Vietnamese police car, or starting their commando infiltration Behind Enemy Lines while still wearing their Hawaiian shirts and shorts.

I have a confession to make; I found the second half of this movie so boring that I started to only give it half of my attention, giving my second half to some outside paperwork that I had to do. Normally I wouldn't do something like this, but this movie gave me nothing to look forward to and didn't have the skill to make the standard scenes of this formula look more exciting. Director Griffiths (any relation?) manages to make a good-looking movie, but this is wrong for this kind of movie; you expect a certain level of professionalism, yes, but a more gritty look and feel here would have been more appropriate. He shows a lot of destruction, most notably countless scenes of Vietnamese soldiers getting machine-gunned down, but his attempts to ape Sam Peckinpah with this and the use of slow motion make it an ordeal to watch. This even includes the breakout finale, where an incredible amount of ammunition is fired, but has the opposite effect of what the director was intending.

This is the kind of movie where someone with a pistol can, without effort, shoot (without missing) five people carrying and firing AK-47s. How can we get involved with the protagonists if they make all their supposedly dangerous actions seem so easy? Nor is the movie containing enough unintended laughs, though there is one great scene where the bad guys have locked themselves in a building, and the heroes shoot the padlock to get inside (think about that.) One final thing about the movie: the video itself says it runs 105 minutes, but my VCR timer put the length closer to 90. Actually, my brain was trying to convince me that the minute length was 150.

UPDATE: Reader William Norton had this information about the movie:

"On Behind Enemy Lines, that was actually a supposive sequel to Soldier Boyz, but they replaced Michael Dudikoff with Griffith, and they still had to pay Dudikoff his half a million (they gave him one million for two Soldier Boyz pictures, but since the first one bombed, they just put the cost of Dudikoffs fee for the second film, and billed it to the budget of Behind Enemy Lines!) The late Brion James was also paid to attach himself to this project, but wound up paying him, but not using him."

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Overkill, Fantasy Mission Force, Escape From El Diablo