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  • Writer's pictureGuilherme Cândido

'Land of Bad' Deals with the Challenges of Communication in the Age of Distractions

Low/medium budget war movies have been premiering more frequently than in the past, becoming favorites among B-movie producers. Outpost, Plane, and Guy Ritchie's Covenant are just a few examples of this recent trend. Always debuting between January and February, a weak period in the cinematic calendar due to the winter in the northern hemisphere, these productions have proven to be reasonably profitable, co-opting fading stars to capture part of the audience. Land of Bad is another case, this time casting Russell Crowe and other Australians to play American military personnel (although born in New Zealand, Crowe moved to the neighboring country as a child).

The eternal Gladiator plays Captain Eddie “Reaper” Grimm, a former pilot who, after repeatedly displaying insubordination, ends up being relegated to drone command, something he finds pleasing, as a promotion would lead him to an instructor position and take him out of the air for good. He is in charge of guiding a group composed of "Sugar" (Milo Ventimiglia, from the late series This is Us), Bishop (Ricky Whittle, from American God series), Abell (Luke Hemsworth, older brother of Chris Hemsworth, Thor) and JJ. "Playboy" Kinney (Liam Hemsworth, younger brother of Chris and star of The Hunger Games), who embark on a mission through a “danger zone” in the Philippines. This area is famous for harboring extremist groups so dangerous that several countries often send troops to the site, as if waging a secret war (or at least that's what the opening caption claims).

Just from this premise, it's possible to anticipate the derivative nature of the project, which is not ashamed of its “inspiration” from other films of the genre, especially Plane (even the location is practically the same). Unfortunately, director William Eubank (of the watchable Signal and Underwater), who also writes the screenplay alongside David Frigerio (Crypto), does little to circumvent this lack of imagination, betting on visually dated resources (such as slow motion) and narratively unoriginal elements, like the countdown that always ends up restarting, diluting the impact of the intended atmosphere of urgency with its inclusion.

Of the main cast, the youngest Hemsworth, who has been trying to make a name for himself in Hollywood for over a decade but almost always ends up in low-quality productions like Independence Day 2, The Last Song, and Paranoia, does well as Playboy, a role that, let's face it, doesn't demand much acting skill. The physicality he brings and his prior experience playing characters marked by youth contribute to making him a protagonist we have no problem rooting for. Coincidentally, his castmate Milo Ventimiglia is another who sought the Hollywood pantheon throughout his career, even coming close when he lost the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman to Christian Bale. But if Liam had to settle for being Katniss's romantic interest, at least Milo can boast about having led a huge television success.

Ventimiglia has always seemed comfortable in action hero roles, even if he has rarely shown the charisma necessary to attract the attention of major studios, something that does not compromise him here, since his screen time is limited. And if Luke Hemsworth appears only briefly as a mere stereotype, it's up to Russell Crowe to steal the show as Reaper, but not in the way the project would like. After all, I find myself compelled to believe that the Oscar winner only accepted the captain role to pay off some debt, as his participation borders on the unbelievable.

There's an embarrassing attempt to turn Reaper into the comedic relief of the story, an idea that has already proven to be a failure in other movies, like the regrettable Thor: Love and Thunder. The biggest problem, in fact, is not this decision, but the insecurity in implementing it. This is because the former pilot even starts by sustaining a grumpy personality with the potential to elicit laughs thanks to a misplaced gag, but Crowe is lucky to have the element of surprise (it's his first scene, it's worth noting). The rest of the film bets on the character to maintain a connection with Liam Hemsworth's Playboy, building an emotional bond also with the audience, but which is shaken by the insistence on trying to use him to force jokes (and the sequence with Reaper in a supermarket is the biggest proof of this mistake). As if it weren't enough embarrassment to see Crowe performing dance steps with a colleague, it's even worse to see him running to prevent an event, drawing attention to his rounded physique.

These distractions, coincidentally, corroborate the main thesis of the film, discussed without much skill by the pair of screenwriters, but whose objective is crystal clear: to provoke a reflection on communication noises in the modern world. In this case, the scenes that take place inside a military installation specialized precisely in communication are not arranged at random, since there is an intention to expose individuals swallowed by the distractions surrounding them. The fact that they are military personnel also allows for a slightly more subtle comment on the use of drones in War. Eubank and Frigerio, however, let slip an angry tone in their response to the problem raised, culminating in a cathartic sequence that, yes, shows Russell Crowe's purpose.

Of course, technically, Land of Bad performs considerably better, deserving credit for betting on practical effects instead of the cheap, but potentially artificial CGI (the explosions would earn applause from Michael Bay). Similarly, the shootouts are intense and the sound design amplifies the impact of combat. On the other hand, it's necessary to recognize the difficulty of director William Eubank in filming fights, opting for close-up shots that turn the exchange of blows into a jumble of confusing scenes that do not allow the viewer to follow the choreographies. The situations also lack imagination, applying clichés to keep the viewer engaged by the suspense (the dog that almost gives away Kinney's position; the race to escape an explosion just in time, the impulse to save a child; the bazooka that only appears in the enemy's hands at opportune moments).

After signing equally lesser, but superior films in almost all aspects, Eubank is not a disaster in his first time directing an action film, but he should worry about his abilities as a screenwriter. For he and Frigerio abuse conveniences as they pave the way for the characters, who disappear, reappear, and are found without much explanation. Indeed, when Playboy is captured and someone resurfaces implacably to save him at the eleventh hour and in the middle of the jungle, laughter echoed in the press screening where I was.

These facilitations highlight the laziness of the screenwriters and weaken a film that fails to exceed the average of what has been produced, even though it demonstrates such modest ambitions.



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