Basic launches with Jackson leading a group of elite Army Rangers into the jungles of Panama on a training exercise. In the middle of a hurricane. When his commanding officer (played by a dishwatery Timothy Daly) helicopters in to pick up the group, he discovers most of the Rangers are dead, and the rest are shooting at each other.
In comes Travolta as an ex-Ranger to unravel the mystery of Jackson’s murder, accomplished through a series of interrogation scenes and flashbacks, the edits flying at the audience with the pace of one of Michael Bay’s stutter-cutting frenzies. Travolta’s grilling of the survivors lets him rip like he hasn’t in years, and for a while it’s a fun ride. But when the Rashomon-style changes of perspective give way to double/triple/quadruple crosses and desperately “shocking” turns of fortune, the audience is exhausted from simply keeping up with the plot. There’s no chance for thrills or tension and no lull to contemplate the mysteries of human behavior, which all good mysteries allow. And for a thriller wrapped in a mystery, those are heavy flaws.
McTiernan and screenwriter James Vanderbilt seem only a few twists away from a solid film. Here, too much of a good thing isn’t good.