John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, together again! or sort of, for about a minute at the end of this very bizarre feature. But there I go, giving away the last secret of the twelve plot reversals I counted in sequence while watching the film, so forget I said that Jackson, whom we know is dead early on, actually shows up alive at the end, and no, this is not "Pulp Fiction," where if you recall, both those things actually did happen to Travolta.
Okay. The setting is Panama. Jackson is Sgt. Nathan West, Ranger instructor, inhuman driver of his men and detested by them all. He takes his crew of six into the jungle in the teeth of a hurricane, but the helicopter that comes to pick them up finds only two - one healthy, one wounded. Goodness, what happened? Well, the healthy one, Raymond Dunbar (Brian Van Holt), refuses to speak with anyone except another Ranger. Enter Travolta, as Tom Hardy, former Ranger, now a D.E.A. agent, to interrogate him. But wait - the questionee's told everyone he's not Dunbar but Pike, another member of the group. It takes about an hour of the film's running time for everyone at the base to figure out that Dunbar couldn't be Pike because Pike is black and Dunbar is white. No wonder we're bogged down in Iraq.
Calm down and we'll go on with the story. Now everyone has a different version of what happened out there - somebody at Columbia Pictures remembered seeing "Rashomon," and no doubt thought to perk up the tedium here by showing us contradictory stories of the episode - and the secret lies in a cocaine-smuggling operation that's being run out of the base hospital. But I see I forgot to mention the like interest, as opposed to the love interest. It's Connie Nielsen as Captain Julia Osborne, the base Provost Marshal, who must team up, albeit unwillingly, with Travolta if they're to get to the bottom of things.
The plot reversals come thick and fast, and even faster, as Ludwig Bemelmans says in the Madeline books, though unlike those stories they make absolutely no sense here. "Basic" is one of that special group of films that deserve the elegant adjective cockamamie. In fact it's a film that the studio never should have greenlighted without first getting permission from a grownup. Don't look at me.