Phone Booth

John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Connie Nelson, Giovanni Ribisi. Directed by John McKiernan.
Running Time: 125 mins
Rated: MA 15+

A film which trades on a murder mystery usually gives the viewer enough clues so that by the end he or she can say, "Oh, I missed that', or "That's what that meant.'

Not in Basic. This is a frustrating film, filled with intrigue and very few clues.

On assignment in Panama, Nathan West (Jackson) is the archetypal US marine sergeant major. He is demanding and brutal on recruits. During a training exercise he is shot dead by one of the five new arrivals. But who did it and why? Ex-marine, now private investigator, Tom Harding (Travolta) is bought in to assist local marine counsel Julia Osborne (Nielsen) to find out the identity and motivation of the killer.

Ravel's "Bolero' opens and closes this film. It's a perfect theme for director John McTeirnan and writer James Vanderbilt. They dance, or more accurately tease and play, with the audience. There is no way we can work out what is happening here and even less reason, by the film's end, we should care. The joke ends up on us. No wonder the action begins on All Saints Day and concludes on All Soul's. The undeserving viewer is buried in the mystery.

There are some odd things in the story and direction. The lawyers yell all the information about their case all over the marine base. Given the personality of some of the recruits, the psychological profiling for admission into the corps has failed dismally. There are ridiculous setups and silly turning points which are reminiscent of The Keystone Cops. And, worst of all, there is some, inexplicable, soft focus in a few of the shots.

Don't debase yourself. Wait for Basic to hit the video shop and then see how right I am.


Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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