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Tunnel Rats
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by Jay Seaver

"So, Uwe Boll is just acting as a front here, right?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: So... Has this whole "Uwe Boll is quite possibly the worst director every!" thing been an elaborate hoax, a joke played on me by the entire internet? Not having any interest in the videogame-derived things he's been making, I've sort of taken it on faith that he really is a talentless hack without testing it myself. So imagine my surprise when "Tunnel Rats" (or "1968 Tunnel Rats", as the opening titles awkwardly read) turns out to be a pretty solid movie. Does this mean that all his prior works have actually been decent, or that he just needed to stop making video game-based horror movies and start making war films?

Not that I expect Tunnel Rats to change a lot of minds about Boll, and I don't know that it necessarily should; it starts awkwardly, tossing a dozen or so soldiers at us with little more than names and a couple character traits to hang on them. We see Sergeant Vic Hollowborn (Michael Paré) hang a VC trooper and newly-arrived Private Peter Harris (Mitch Eakins) object strongly, but this is, to a certain extent, filler. Boll and co-writer/producer Daniel Clarke are killing time before they start killing characters, figuring that a given audience member will identify with at least one of these guys so he or she has a stake in the second half.

It's scattershot, and doing it that way arguably makes the troops kind of generic. (Sort of like the songs on the soundtrack, which I think are period authentic or decent sound-alikes, but which don't quite hit the bullseye, as if they're the best that could be cleared affordably rather than the perfect song for the moment.) Some bits are interesting - I like how rather than having the African-American soldiers form a clique, they have one, Pvt. Graybridge (Brandon Fobbs), snort at how urban blacks like Lidford (Nate Parker) think they're more persecuted and tougher than everybody else; it's a distinction that seems realistic but finer than the ones that usually make it into this sort of movie (unless it's about that specifically) - but most will fly right out the back of the audience's head by the end of the movie. We're also introduced to a few of the VCs, most notably Vo Mai (Jane Le), who has her children with her.

Once the movie gets underground, though, it gets pretty good. The American soldiers' mission is to clear the labyrinths of tunnels that the Viet Cong has dug, which we've been told is extremely hazardous duty, though that doesn't prepare us for the reality of it. The tunnels are tight and booby-trapped, occasionally flooding, and any member of the cast can meet their end at any time, often in gruesome or unsettling fashion. And while there are a couple of flashy set pieces up top, with exploding vehicles and ammunition dumps and the like, Boll keeps things tight and tense within the tunnels. There are a couple larger chambers, but for the most part the soldiers are crawling, and when encountering a trap, enemy, or other obstacle, they must deal with it in close quarters. It's actually shot and edited well enough that the audience can build a map of the tunnel system in their mind, which only adds to a continual tension that becomes cumulative, without much in the way of ramping up and ramping down.

There's also no clear direction to it, which isn't a bad thing. The relative interchangeability of the characters in some way becomes an asset, because at no point can the audience look at any particular one and say he'll survive because a story arc demands it. That's war in a nutshell - a grinding, merciless process that kills both the cowardly and the valiant, the kind and the cruel, and doesn't choose sides. Boll and Clarke are impressively uncompromising on that point, demonstrating rather than lecturing. They handle the Viet Cong nicely, too - it's clearly a movie from an American point of view with the VC presented as antagonists, but also showing that from their perspective, the Americans are an invading and occupying force.

Maybe this genre and subject matter just suits Boll better than horror, or maybe he just takes it more seriously. "Tunnel Rats" may not be a great movie, but it is a good one with an unusual angle on the Vietnam War, and I certainly didn't expect that from Boll's reputation.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17642&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/25/08 22:56:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/11/10 Ed Howe I found it to be a typical, basically liberal leftist,european view of the vietnam war. 3 stars
3/01/10 Roy Smith Welcome to Bizarro World! Uwe? Good? WTF? 4 stars
12/14/09 Sawyer For interested war buffs it's OK 3 stars
8/04/09 Zinfandel Boll gets everyting wrong with the Vietnam war backdrop. Complete BS--too bad. 1 stars
7/03/09 Kermit Crissey typical war movie, worth a look 3 stars
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  DVD: 30-Jun-2009


  DVD: 30-Jun-2009

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