At a time when U.S. military vets face unemployment, homelessness, and neglect, Soldiers of Fortune comes along like an infuriatingly cynical slap in the face. Here is a film that regards the military not as a serious personal and professional commitment but as the perfect foil for a mindless action extravaganza. The very real tragedy of soldiers coming home to joblessness and foreclosure, in part because of a weak economy, is downplayed to the point of parody. Rather than let the events in the main character’s life naturally unfold, a scenario is manufactured so that the main character has no choice but to take part in the plot, which is not even remotely plausible and exists primarily as an excuse to include stock characters, really bad puns, and a lot of shooting people down and blowing things up.
What really makes me mad is that any potential audiences are unlikely to care or even notice how this movie is mocking the military. They will only see the guns and the explosions and actors like Christian Slater, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan, and James Cromwell behaving like cheesy badasses. Earlier this year, I expressed venomous feelings towards Act of Valor, a two-hour recruitment video in which real active-duty Navy SEALs were cast. Now, the pendulum has swung the other way; Soldiers of Fortune does not take the military, or anyone who serves, seriously at all. If filmmakers continue to manhandle the sensitive subject of our men and women in the armed forces, it will only lead to resentment and apathy on the part of the people who see movies about them.
The film begins in 2008 in Afghanistan, where Captain Craig McCenzie (Slater) and his friend, Captain Reed (Freddy Rodriguez), are serving tours of duty. Their mission to infiltrate a Taliban weapons cache is blown when they discover that a corrupt CIA contractor named Carter Mason (Colm Meany) is trafficking cocaine with the Taliban’s cooperation. McCenzie disobeys a direct order to abort the mission, and although doing so saves Reed’s life, it also leads to both men being court-martialed and ultimately dishonorably discharged from the military. Flash forward four years. McCenzie and Reed, now living in Montana, are both out of work and in dire straits financially. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make some money,” says Reed, a husband and father who’s about two weeks away from losing his house to the bank. McCenzie, who runs a failing security company from his trailer, has been reduced to shady card games and can after can of beer.
Lo and behold, along comes a woman named Cecelia (Oksana Korostyshevskaya) and her brother, Ernesto (Ryan Donowho), with a proposal. The siblings are part of a resistance movement on an island in the Black Sea, which stationed allied forces during the Cold War but has since been seized by a ruthless dictator named Colonel Lupo (Gennadi Vengerov). Mason is now his head of security. The resistance movement, desperate for funding and weapons, has overseen the creation of Soldiers of Fortune, a Romanian tourist attraction for extreme vacationers. Essentially, bored millionaires eager to waste their money are taken to a fully equipped military camp, trained for combat, and put into an actual war zone. The only difference, according to the program’s commercial, is that there’s no risk of life. McCenzie and Reed’s job would be to protect the clients while posing as their trainers.
And so they go off to Romania. There, they meet five superrich clients looking for the thrill of a military experience. All are desperately broad caricatures without an ounce of truth to them. They are: Charles Vanderbeer (Charlie Brewley), a banker who made a fortune running a Wall Street hedge fund; Roman St. John (Bean), a successful metals magnate as well as a womanizer and a playboy; Samuel Haussmann (Cromwell), the C.E.O. of a cell phone company who wears a cowboy hat and speaks in a southern drawl; Grimaud Tourneur, a.k.a. The Grim Reaper (Rhames), who came from French Africa and made all his money as an arms dealer; and Tommy Sin (Monaghan), a designer of uber-violent video games and himself a video game addict, his sunglasses serving as tiny computer screens and sensors on his fingers serving as the controller.
It’s all fun and games until Mason spots their boats moving towards the shore. In due time, McCenzie and his team are drawn into actual combat. And wouldn’t you know it, all the millionaires (except one) miraculously set aside their spoiled, wealthy personas and voluntarily fight against Lupo. It’s at this point that the film devolves even further into an overblown stunt and special effects spectacle, where the actors deliver lines written in the tradition of the worst 1980s action films. How could anyone allow the military to be depicted this way, to be at the mercy of an impossible plot with badly developed characters and laughable dialogue? Given today’s political and social climate, given the callous disregard of those who serve our country with honor and distinction, Soldiers of Fortune could not have come at worse time.