Stop-Loss (DVD)

In the opening episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the show's jaded producer (the always excellent Judd Hirsch) rails against the dumbing down of TV and, by extension, American life in general. In the course of his Network-style rant, he refers to the current Iraq conflict as "a war with a logo and a theme tune". As a result of Stop-Loss, it's now got corporate sponsorship too.

You wouldn't normally associate the likes of MTV with propaganda, but that's what you get here: the people you'd normally associate with glossy music videos, Pimp My Ride and trying to find Tila Tequila a date have branched out into serious movies. The result is the sort of jaw-dropping, awful mishmash you could have predicted. War flashbacks play like hip-hop videos, pretty boy actors attempt “earnest” but instead achieve “pouting” and “constipation” and the film's central issue — the abhorrent policy of the film's title — is delivered with all the subtlety of Diff'rent Strokes or Saved By The Bell when they tackled a “serious” issue.

Brandon King (Phillippe) is a good ol' boy, but he's confused. A son of Texas — so unlike, ooh, anyone in power in the US — he's a soldier at the end of his tether and, after three terms in Iraq, he's struggling with his morals. It used to be easy: he signed up to serve his country and serve he did. Now, with men dying as a result of his decisions, and his own inner struggle to justify a war that seems so pointless, he's had enough, so this homecoming will be his last. Only it won't be. Due to the “Stop-Loss” policy, the US forces have the right to veto anyone's exit papers and force them back into armed service. To the annoyance of his colleagues and friends, particularly best mate Steve (Tatum), Brandon refuses to go back and, instead, goes on the run, with the help of Michelle (Cornish), Steve's girlfriend — well, ex-girlfriend, because the hilariously right-on Stop-Loss also squeezes in some domestic abuse issues. Brandon soon finds himself forced to make a choice. Fight in a war he no longer believes in, for a country he no longer trusts, or change his identity, move to Canada or Mexico, and never see his family again.

Clearly this is a subject for serious discussion and yes, perhaps we should applaud MTV for attempting to bring this issue to a wider demographic. After all, the problem with previous anti-Iraq / War on Terror films is that they're preaching to the converted so, by adding Phillippe to the mix, perhaps MTV will actually spur a new generation of protesters because like, war is like rilly bad, y'know? We can but hope but, frankly, the subject deserves a far greater film than this hilariously botched effort. There are times when the peace message is trowelled on so thickly, you wouldn't put it past them to have a three minute close-up of a wreath while Imagine plays in the background. Actually, there are times when you'd gratefully take the relative subtlety of the wreath and John Lennon instead of the browbeating you get here. To have taken this cast and this director — whose last film was the Oscar-winning Boys Don't Cry for chrissakes — and come up with this is a shocking waste of time, money and talent. After employing every tortured veteran war cliché known to man, and a script that's beyond embarrasing in its obviousness, they still barely achieve the “war, war is stupid” level of education Culture Club managed in The War Song. The big difference, of course, is that Boy George got his naïve point across in four jaunty minutes while Peirce et al take 113 minutes to be just as facile.

At the end, instead of leaving the country, Brandon goes back to his squad because, apparently fighting in Iraq is still preferable to living in Canada and Mexico. Maybe that's actually the point. Stop-Loss isn't the MTV-branded war protest we've assumed: it's actually subtle anti-Canada propaganda. Whatever it is though, two things it's certainly not are: a) any good; and b) worth seeing.


EXTRAS *** A commentary track with writer/director Kimberly Pierce and co-writer Mark Richard; 11 deleted scenes; The Making Of Stop-Loss featurette; and A Day in Boot Camp featurette.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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