Bad action flicks from the 1980s are beginning to blend together for me. They all seem to have the same plots, the same producers, the same locations, the same stars, even the same bad guys. No facetiousness on that last part. In a coincidence for the ages, the last five ’80s action flicks I’ve seen have all had Stack Pierce playing a bad guy. There truly is a bottomless pit of shitty movies, and this age of unlimited content can stress the attention spans of even the most dedicated enthusiast.
From 1986, The Patriot features C-list action star Gregg Henry as Matt Ryder, a former Navy SEAL who was dishonorably discharged during the Vietnam War for refusing a bullshit mission. The mid-80s in cinema were chock full of characters like this. Back then the memories of that war were still sharp in our minds, as evidenced by a scene where screenwriters Andy Ruben and Katt Shea have Ryder spout off some of the more horrifying statistics about the war, including how much tonnage of bombs we dropped on that country. It’s not the strongest writing choice, as a veteran disturbed by what he had seen and done would have been able to rely on anecdotes rather than stats. Henry has enough vitriol in his delivery to get the point across, however.
As for the plot, one of the more bumbling terrorist groups one will see in film, led by the steely-faced Atkins (Pierce), has raided an arms depot in the Mojave and made off with a bunch of nuclear warheads. The terrorists’ day job is commercial diving on offshore oil rigs, and they make the mistake of leaving one of the warhead’s warning labels where an innocent diver, Maggie (Diane Stevenett), is able to find it. She, in turn, enlists her old friend Ryder, now a professional diver, as well, to investigate. Seriously, that’s how this movie gets the plot rolling. But, then…
After Maggie is killed, Ryder is called out of his forced retirement by Admiral Frazer (Leslie Nielsen, in two short scenes). Frazer has somehow gotten wind of Ryder’s involvement in the missing nukes and, rather than use some of the many, many active duty special forces the U.S. has to retrieve the wayward nukes, Frazer decides that the man for the job is a bitter drunk with no money in his bank account and a grudge against the military. Why? Because that’s how Ruben and Shea wrote it, and b-movie vet Frank Harris directed it. It gets better.
Frazer has a daughter named Sean (Simone Griffeth) who is also a naval officer, and is Ryder’s former lover. They fell out when he was discharged, but get right back to business to provide viewers with some gratuitous nudity. Yet, there’s still more.
Frazer’s aide is Commander Mitchell (Jeff Conaway), who is in love with Sean, and, in a moment of pique in the 2nd act, confesses to being the shadowy actor behind the terrorists. Why? Because he is unhappy with the fact there hasn’t been a nuclear war yet. Rather than take this information to either Ryder or her father, this shocking development is forgotten until Mitchell shows up for the final act showdown aboard the terrorists’/divers’ ship. What a convoluted mess. If filmmakers are going to saddle an audience with this shit, the least they could do is give us good action, right?
Well, this flick didn’t have much of a budget to speak of, but Harris and company eked out a decent amount of excitement. The movie starts with the raid on the depot, and many, many blanks were fired. There are explosions, and more blood than one would expect from a movie like this. And, after some meandering about, the finale aboard the ship, with the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over proceedings, is satisfying enough.
That’s just it, though. It’s satisfying, and never all that engaging. Henry isn’t all that interesting of a performer, even though he was professional. At times he had the necessary swagger for the role, and at others, I was wondering if Wings Hauser would have been better suited.
The Patriot is anonymous and deserves to be so. It doesn’t go in enough on its shitty to be a true howler, showing restraint in all the wrong places. It lands in the mediocre middle of the Watchability Index, taking over the #273 spot from Badass.