Throwback Thirty – Biloxi Blues (1988)

biloxi_blues5_star_rating_system_2_stars It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been back at work for 3 days and that a week ago I was in the middle of my holiday. It feels like months ago. God, I already need another holiday just to get over getting back from my last one. And I really did start the day feeling positive; or at least as positive as I could in the circumstances. But, clearly, the people I work with had other ideas for me. I managed to leave feeling utterly exhausted and fed-up. Meaning today’s TBT post has been sitting on my screen utterly blank for hours. It also means I’m going to be late getting to bed and unable to read much beforehand. But I’m going to push through. I can’t let things I can’t change stop me getting shit done. Looking at myself now, it’s a mystery how I managed to write-up two weeks’ worth of posts in the run-up to my time away. I must have used up all of my energy and it’s coming up to bite me now. Still, this is in danger of being an absolute self-pity party so, without further ado, on with the review… ooh I love an accidental rhyme.

I’ve definitely reached the point in the year when I’m a bit bored of 1988 movies. I have to admit that I’m not faithfully sticking to my TBT jar. There have been a number of occasions when I’ve picked out a name and put it straight back in because I couldn’t face it. They all seem so intense and all I really want to do is watch more stupid Dan Aykroyd comedies. But I fear I’ve run out. So, I’ve gone off book again this week and picked a film I hadn’t even put in the jar. It wasn’t because I was particularly eager to watch it either. It mainly came down to running time. In fact, I knew very little about Biloxi Blues before watching it. I wasn’t aware of Neil Simon’s play that it was adapted from. It was literally just the right length for my attention span this week.

The film follows a group of new recruits to the US army as they make their way through basic training towards the end of the Second World War. Although, the focus falls on one Eugene Morris Jerome (Matthew Broderick) who has taken to keep a journal of his journey. Writing down everything he sees and does, including some less than flattering descriptions of his fellow soldiers. As the group try to come to terms with military life, they must also face up to their slightly crazy drill Sergeant (Christopher Walken). The group of men are from different backgrounds and have different interests however they must find a way to work together to be a successful unit if they have any hope of survival.

Biloxi Blues has a pretty good critical reception according to Rotten Tomatoes. Something that gave me confidence going in but, after seeing it, just confuses me. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see what there is to rave about. It’s not as if it was a bad film but it wasn’t an exciting film either. There is a sense that everything was kept quite small and insular in order to maintain the feeling of a theatre production but this was supposed to be a war movie. I know the play takes inspiration for Simon’s own experiences in the war and that Eugene is loosely based upon the playwright himself. But that doesn’t mean this shouldn’t have felt like a war film. It just has no real weight to it. Not sense of urgency or dread. It feels like you’re looking at film or theatre sets and not an army barracks. It’s hard to really feel so engrossed in the film when the film seems so unable to engross itself in it.

Everything just feels flat on-screen. It’s not that the performances aren’t good: Broderick does a fine job and Walken is particularly memorable. However, none of the characters ever really pop. They just don’t feel real or developed in this situation. You don’t get a sense of who they are or why you should care about them. And the comedy never really lands. You can tell where the jokes are meant to be but they seem to be lost in translation here. Maybe it’s different seeing it on stage but the film version is just not the right setting for this material. It moves so quickly and clumsily through the story that there isn’t time to get it right. Eugene’s encounter with the local prostitute is one obvious moment that just becomes super awkward for all the wrong reasons. Eugene, about to lose his virginity, is understandably nervous but the way it plays out on screen just takes any humour out of it. It feels wrong instead of awkwardly comical.

This could undoubtedly have been a funny film but this adaptation doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t appear to be at all interested in the source material and feels as though someone went to the smallest amount of effort to make a war film. If it weren’t for Christopher Walken’s natural screen presence this film would have very little going for it. But even his schtick as the crazed psycho is something we’ve seen countless times before. This film just doesn’t feel fresh or interesting enough. It just feels sad. The title shouldn’t refer to the state the recruits are in but the one that the audience finds themselves once the credits roll.

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