When The Rock unofficially decided, several years ago, that he'd like to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, someone must've sensed an opening down the action-hero totem pole; who's going to be the next Jean-Claude Van Damme, the next Chuck Norris, or the next The Rock, for that matter? Enter another professional wrestler, John Cena, and his film debut, The Marine. Cena plays John Triton, established early in the movie as the only U.S. soldier to ever feel depressed about leaving Iraq. It's not even by choice -- he is discharged for disobeying a direct order, busting up some (yes) al Qaeda operatives and saving fellow soldiers in the process. Marines, as we all know, are not trained to follow orders, just as commanding officers are not trained to give orders to save lives.
Triton returns home to his loving wife Kate, played by Kelly Carlson. In their brief romantic interludes, she appears distressingly close to fitting into a single palm of Cena, who looks sort of like a prehistoric Matt Damon. Fortunately for the restless marine, his wife is soon taken hostage by a disorganized band of jewel-thieving psychopaths, led by Rome (Robert Patrick). Psychopaths, as we all know, frequently channel their bloodlust into diamond heists.
When the thieves kill a bunch of cops and abscond with Kate, Triton pursues them in a beat-up cop car, withstanding a hail of automatic gunfire as he barrels down the highway to reclaim his stolen property, er, wife. This sequence is actually pretty neat; the cop car takes about a thousand bullets and sheds all kinds of parts, but Triton keeps driving. It's a good thing someone sees fit to finally blow it up, because I have no doubt that had the chase continued, John Triton would've had no problem sticking his feet out of the bottom of the car and running it himself, Flintstones style.
Later, the movie show us Triton's keen Marines-honed tracking skills in action, as he notices footprints in mud and an enormous knife dropped by one of the bad guys. Don't try this at home, laymen. Did I mention that most of the action takes place in a woodsy area dotted with abandoned cabins and warehouses? Maybe I didn't need to. If not for the regular fiery explosions, The Marine would be an environmentalist's dream; it's made from 100 percent recycled materials. This is the type of movie where you're not surprised to hear White Zombie's "More Human Than Human" blasting on the soundtrack within the first 15 minutes; in fact, you're more surprised that it doesn't play continuously throughout the rest of the movie.
Despite the White Zombie, the explosions, and the locations that look ordered from a low-budget action movie catalog, The Marine isn't quite the movie I'd hoped it would be. Its stupidity/gratuity ratio is off. Sure, Cena twice emerges from water looking pissed off after jumping away from an explosion, but he never rises up in slow motion with a gun in each hand. Yes, the marine dispatches murderous vigilante justice, but never uses any puns.
The Marine does flirt with this kind of awesome idiocy, but at the end of the night, it doesn't take you home (or even hit you with a chair). During the first half hour or so, I felt something approaching delight in the way it kicks ass at being totally lousy. Then, when the "tracking through the woods" portion of the film begins, it gets bogged down in trying to make the gang of bad guys more tongue-in-cheek than the rest of the picture. Robert Patrick gets to spout off some good-bad-good lines, but interplay between his kept thugs isn't as self-aware as the screenplay seems to think. The cutesy bickering actually makes you wonder how the gang has managed to spend the whole movie avoiding getting straight-up murdered by Triton/Cena, especially considering how physically non-imposing they all are. Isn't this kind of gang supposed to have a really huge dumb guy with a nickname like "Beast" or "Bear" who Triton has to fight second-to-last, before his confrontation with Patrick?
The Marine regains some so-dumb-it-rules ground for the finale, which takes place in warehouse that seems to store explosions. But at this point, it's not enough -- at least not for a theatrical release. By all means, if you're up at three in the morning watching HBO, and this movie comes on, put on a pot of coffee, clear your throat, and get ready to play the Mystery Science Theater 3000 at-home game.
I love you, man!