Cult Cinema: Navy Seals (1990) - Reviewed


Images courtesy of Orion Pictures

1980's American cinema was filled with jingoistic propaganda, featuring larger than life United States soldiers facing all sorts of menaces.  Aliens, corrupt politicians, and even military coups...nothing however compared to the never-ending threat of terrorists.  This trend continued well into the early 90's as post-cold war America began to settle down, however one thing dramatically changed in the aftermath.  Vulnerability.  Heroes began to have weaknesses and even lose on occasion. A shining example of this is in Lewis Teague's Navy Seals.  A rip-roaring, masculinity infused cocktail of Charlie Sheen's drug addled personal demons, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton's legendary cool, and some of the most wonderfully delicious contrivances to have ever been filmed, this pure vintage adrenaline fuel.  

An Arabic terrorist has somehow obtained a stockpile of US Stinger missiles and is threatening to unleash them.  An elite team of Navy Seals is called in to handle the situation.  While the plotline is that simple, and the dialogue both completely unrealistic and casually racist in a way only the 80's can be, it is the concept of mortality that is of import.  Character's fail missions.  They make reasonable bad decisions in the heat of battle, and most importantly, they die.  As the film heads towards its chaotic climactic battle, the movie almost transmogrifies into a slasher film, reminding the viewer perhaps of Jaws 2, another film that masquerades as one thing while being an entirely different film under the veneer of familiarity. 

The cast is really the whole film.  Michael Biehn stars as the erudite leader of the team who is contrasted by Charlie's Sheen's completely insane loose cannon.  Virtually every action he takes would be court martialed, but the panache and bravura of Sheen's charisma cannot be denied.  They are supported by legend Bill Paxton as a laconic sniper. Dennis Haysbert, and Rick Rossovich also star.  Joanne Whaley-Kilmer (Willow) has an interesting role as a half lebanese reporter who is a love interest for Biehn and Sheen.   

John A. Alonzo's cinematography is grainy and hard to follow during the fight scenes, perhaps on purpose, but it comes alive in the film's centerpiece, a drunken session of golf in which the team performs golf cart jousting and other feats, endearing themselves to the audience so when the blood begins to flow, there are actual stakes.  The sense of impending doom is always present, especially after an unexpected tragedy strikes and this is what makes Navy Seals a memorable experience.   

Now available for digital rental and coming soon in 4K UHD from Vinegar Syndrome, Navy Seals is most certainly a relic of its time, but its approach to warfare and the mental toll it takes on the best of the best is heartbreaking, occasionally funny, and memorable.   While nothing about the craft breaks any particular mold, the performances are enough to merit a viewing or two, with the film's treatment of death a welcome breath of fresh air in a time when cinema was dominated by unkillable super soldiers capable of stopping an entire third world country on their own.

--Kyle Jonathan