‘Jarhead 3’ is ‘13 Hours’ With Less Class and More Marines
Yes, it’s possible to make something worse than a Michael Bay film
The Marines shoot their way through the dusty desert streets. They’ve lost good men in the last 12 hours, but the nightmare is almost over. The well-trained men spray cover fire as the ambassador and the spy duck down an alley. Masked terrorists pursue them, firing their AKs.
The spy takes point, kicks in a door and leads the team into a fast food restaurant called Freedom Burger. Bloated, bemused Middle Easterners sit scarfing burgers and shakes. A man and woman sit together enjoying a meal. A straw hangs from of the stunned mouth of a patron. Uniformed teenage employees huddle around the glass doors watching the carnage outside.
Bullets tear through the windows, breaking the spell. The patrons run out the front door and into the street. The Americans flip tables and take point at the windows. Here, in a fast food joint called Freedom Burger built in the middle of a painfully generic, unnamed Middle Eastern country, is where the Marines of Jarhead 3 make their final stand.
Jarhead 3: The Siege is the latest film in what is now, officially, a franchise. If you’re confused how this happened, you should be.
The original Jarhead was a very good film, if flawed. Jarhead 3 and Jarhead 2: Field of Fire are the kinds of direct-to-video schlock you’ll soon see littering Walmart’s DVD bargain bin, and have no relation to the original film except the name.
The latest film’s dialogue is bad, the action terrible and story complete nonsense. It follows the exploits of Marine Cpl. Evan Albright, who begins the story at a cushy job guarding an American embassy in an unspecified country referred to only as The Kingdom.
Albright is ambitious. He doesn’t just want to be a Marine, he wants to be the best Marine. He’s happy to serve, but feels that guard duty — where his fellow jarheads spend their time watching football and playing video games — is beneath him. His cowboy antics and overeager attitude run afoul of his fellow Marines who just seem to want to have a good time before their tour is over.
Above and below — Marines kick some ass in Jarhead 3. Above — the stunned patrons of Freedom Burger. Universal captures
Albright’s commander, Gunnery Sgt. Raines, doesn’t care for the boy’s attitude and does his damndest to knock the ambitious grunt down a peg. Which is weird. Raines is the kind of hard-charger Albright wants to become. According to the other characters, Raines was in Fallujah (one and two), Ramadi and every other recent American conflict that’s taken on mythic proportions.
Perhaps Raines tries to rein in Albright because he reminds him of himself. It could have been an interesting character moment, but the filmmakers toss it aside when the bullets start flying.
Those bullets come when a militant named Khaled, who has ties to the Islamic State, attacks the embassy. Albright, Raines and the rest of the Marines then spend the film protecting civilians, destroying classified information, spouting quips that would choke Arnold Schwarzenegger and — of course — lighting up terrorists.
Jarhead 3 plays out like a low-rent Benghazi film in the style of 13 Hours. It has the look and feel of mockbusters such as Transmorphers and The Da Vinci Treasure, produced by unscrupulous movie studios to capitalize on big budget releases.
The setups to both 13 Hours and Jarhead 3 are remarkably similar. A sleazy contractor and a sleazy ambassador get an American embassy into trouble, and it’s up to a group of all-American bad asses to rescue everyone. Contractors attempt a rescue in 13 Hours, and Marines lead the charge in Jarhead 3.
In case the audience doesn’t understand the connection, the movie’s dumbest character — a media intern who spends the entire movie filming everything for YouTube and explaining the plot aloud — screams, “This is just like Benghazi!”
But Jarhead 3 is a fantasy, not a tragedy. The Marines of the embassy are capable and rescue much of the staff — including a mysterious spook named Olivia. The morally ambiguous agent makes a special trip to the ambassador’s residence so she can burn a safe full of cash and cover up Washington’s unseemly activities in the region.
Why the coverup? She explains that it’s how they kept the area stable, but she never explains who they were paying. Washington doles out aid to foreign governments all the time. It’s easy to look up how much cash it’s giving. It’s not a scandal.
But if the embassy and the ambassador was paying off local militias, that’s another story. One similar to certain Benghazi conspiracy theories. But Jarhead 3 doesn’t bother to explain. It just shows a character burning money. The scene upsets Albright, the picture’s hero, and that’s supposed to be enough for the audience.
Jarhead 3, at least, has a kind of brand recognition to go along with its nonsensical plot and crappy action. But while watching, I kept thinking … what an odd brand to turn into a franchise.
Anthony Swofford joined the Marine Corps in 1989 and served during the Persian Gulf War. He turned his experiences into a memoir titled Jarhead and published it in 2003. The book was a critical and commercial darling. Swofford read portions of it on This American Life. Two years later, American Beauty director Sam Mendes adapted the film into a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
The first movie is a dreamy art film about one Marine’s journey. It feels personal and sad. My Marine friends have told me the film captures the mood of serving in the Corps even as it flubs the details.
There is something grotesque about turning Swofford’s story into a direct-to-video action movie franchise. Throughout both the book and movie, Swofford tells us how he wants to kill a man. It’s what he’s trained for and one of the reasons he went to war. He wants to see the pink mist.
But he never does. He’s pulled away at the last second, cock-blocked by the military machine from performing the duty he dreamed of. Now, that man’s journey is the basis for a series of movies about gung-ho Americans tearing across the Middle East and killing bad guys.
Hollywood scooped up Swofford’s life and colonized it with D-list celebs and awful plots. Special effects wizards added the pink mist in post-production. The sequels play out on sterile Burbank sets, where a backlot is dressed up to look like Freedom Burger. Another bit of Americana worming its way into a place it isn’t wanted.