The Best of the Bad: Movies Veterans Hate to Love

April 13, 2020Jariko Denman
UNCOMMON VALOR, (l-r): Randall Cobb, Patrick Swayze, Fred Ward, Reb Brown, Gene Hackman, Tim Thomerson, Harold Sylvester, 1983, (c)Paramount

UNCOMMON VALOR, (l-r): Randall Cobb, Patrick Swayze, Fred Ward, Reb Brown, Gene Hackman, Tim Thomerson, Harold Sylvester, 1983, (c)Paramount

Being a military veteran and a movie lover can sometimes be an inner struggle. We are constantly asked to look past what are, to us, obvious inaccuracies in everything from dialogue to the size of an explosion. 

Most of the time we can get over a few of these issues if they aid in the telling of the story, they aren’t disrespectful, or they’re so niche that even a fellow vet may not catch them. A majority of movies are able to get away with a few honest mistakes and still tell an okay story. But sometimes there’s a film with such great characters that you can’t help but root them on. A film with such a fun world that you can’t help but wonder what happens next. A film with so many blatant inaccuracies that you stop labeling them as bad and start calling them charming.

Sometimes a war movie is so bad that we just can’t help but love it. Maybe it reminds us of a place and time in our lives. Maybe we grew to love them before we witnessed someone getting shot or before we saw a live grenade go off in person. But for whatever reason, we can look past the fakest of the fake and the cheesiest of cheese to enjoy these embarrassing classics. 

“Uncommon Valor” 

Uncommon Valor. When Patrick Swayze stars in an '80s movie, you know it's going to be a good one.
When Patrick Swayze stars in an ’80s movie, you know it’s going to be a good one. Photo courtesy of IMDb.

First off, “Uncommon Valor” stars the Swaze. You can’t go wrong when you see Patrick Swayze cast in — well, anything. But aside from that, this 1983 action classic has so much else to offer. Set in the early 1980s, it tells the story of a retired U.S. Marine colonel and Korean War vet whose son, a LRRP (long-range reconnaissance patrol) in Vietnam, was listed as missing in action after part of his team was overrun and left to die on their PZ. 

Colonel Rhodes, played by Gene Hackman, gets financial backing from another MIA’s father (who also happens to be an oil millionaire) and sets out to put together a rescue team composed of his son’s old LRRP team buddies and a couple of former hot shot Huey pilots. Naturally, Swayze is among the crew. 

The movie touches on some serious subject matter as Rhodes drops in on these vets’ lives roughly 10 years after their return to civilian life. As he recruits them, we get a glimpse of how their service has affected their civilian lives and how they have learned to cope — or not cope — with the horrors of war. From there, they are all transported to a remote and temporary base where they train and rehearse their mission with the most state-of-the-art equipment (for the time) that money can buy. Once Rhodes is satisfied with their proficiency, they go forth to accomplish their mission — you’ll have to watch it to find out the rest. 

“Behind Enemy Lines”

“Behind Enemy Lines” came out in 2001 and is one of the few movies about the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. It is a hugely inaccurate take on the story of U.S. Air Force Pilot Scott O’Grady, whose F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in 1995. Fun fact: O’Grady later sued 20th Century Fox for using portions of his story in the film without his permission. 

All that aside, you can’t help but laugh and cringe while simultaneously rooting for flight navigator Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) and his pilot, “Stack,” to evade the world’s most persistent heat-seeking missile. You’ll cringe even more at the technical inaccuracies the story relies on throughout the film, all while sitting on the edge of your seat as Burnett runs from his evil Serbian aggressors through the Bosnian countryside and war-torn villages that were the backdrop of some of the worst genocides of the modern era. 

Throughout his evasion, Burnett is being pushed by the fatherly presence of (once again) Gene Hackman, who plays his ship’s skipper. And get this — Hackman’s character is also a Huey pilot who routinely leads CSAR missions! But I’ll stop there so as not to spoil what is actually a pretty visually radical finale. 

“Navy SEALS”

navy seals movie
Photo courtesy of Amazon.

What war movie list would be complete without including one about the film industry’s most beloved SOF unit? And what movie started the endless barrage of jokes that Team guys now have to endure from their brothers and sisters in service? None other than 1990’s “Navy SEALs”! This is the OG of movies about America’s favorite rowdy band of land pirates. Can you really hate on a sniper whose thermal optic can see through brick walls when that sniper happens to be Bill Paxton, aka “God.” Dude — how cool is that callsign? 

Most critics will tell you that good characters can carry a lot of other shortcomings in a film, and this movie is packed with all the action stars we love. Dennis Haysbert as the chief, who we’ve come to know and love as Snake Doctor — and the voice of Allstate insurance; Rick Rossovich, aka “Slider,” as Leary (who needs rank? he’s just Leary); and Michael Biehn, who starred in a whole slew of action movies in the ’80s and ’90s, as the PL who struggles to control his out-of-control adrenaline junkie APL Dale Hawkins, who is played by the one and only tiger-blood-chugging Charlie Sheen. 

I could watch this cast paint a fence and be entertained, but we get to watch them put journalists through a live-fire shoothouse, have golf cart battle montages, and raid multiple terrorist safe houses in Beirut! If you can’t shelf your eye for the inaccuracies long enough to bask in the beautiful American action of “Navy SEALs,” you need to lighten up because you’re missing out on a fun-ass time. 

Jariko Denman
Jariko Denman

Jariko Denman is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die. He is a retired US Army Ranger and deployed to combat 15 times in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2012, amounting to 54 months of total combat experience as part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force. He now lives in Los Angeles and has advised on several major motion pictures, national ad campaigns, and television series as well as continuing to train and work within government and tactical industries.

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