Vietnam flick is more Hamburger Helper than "Hamburger Hill," but it's not without its positive attributes.
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All I knew about “Ambush” (in select theaters and on VOD beginning Friday, Feb. 24) when agreeing to review it was that it was a war picture and featured Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Aaron Eckhart. I didn’t know it was a Vietnam War movie – a subgenre for which I have a great affinity what with the likes of “The Deer Hunter,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Casualties of War,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Forrest Gump,” “Dead Presidents” and “Da 5 Bloods.” “Ambush” is less “Hamburger Hill” and more Hamburger Helper as it’s pretty cheesy, but it does admittedly have its fair share of admirable assets.
Gen. Drummond (Eckhart) has sent Capt. Mora (Gregory Sims, overacting like whoa) to Firebase Argonne in Quảng Trị Province in order to secure or destroy a classified binder containing the identities of Vietnamese collaborators. When the folder falls into the hands of the Viet Cong, Mora enlists the services of noted tracker Lt. Col. Miller (Meyers) to reclaim the documents. As the Viet Cong have taken the papers underground in a series of labyrinthine tunnels, Miller orders Army Engineer Cpl. Ackerman (Connor Paolo) and his men beneath the surface. They have two hours to retrieve the binder or Special Forces operative Crawford (Mac Brandt) will blow the tunnels up sealing them and the folder inside. Ackerman and his men are ditch diggers as opposed to hunter killers and are therefore deemed expendable.
“Ambush” as directed by Mark Earl Burman (best known for producing Paul Schrader’s gnarly Nicolas Cage/Willem Dafoe-starrer “Dog Eat Dog” and writing and producing “Piranha Sharks” featuring Kevin Sorbo and Bash Brother Jose Canseco) and written by Burman, Johnny Lozano and Michael McClung often feels a lot like “Call of Duty” cutscenes or The Max Fischer Players’ presentation of “Apocalypse Now” from “Rushmore” (For the record: Brandt’s Crawford would most assuredly be played by Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) in said production.). This is both to the good and the bad.
The movie’s strongest attributes are the committed and largely likable performance of Paolo and the anachronistic yet tension-building synth score from We Are Dark Angels. Paolo was a child actor who appeared in the Oliver Stone films “Alexander” and “World Trade Center” and in a recurring role on The CW’s “Gossip Girl.” He’s matured nicely – his Ackerman is believable in action and entirely sympathetic.
Eckhart and Meyers are the production’s biggest names and they’re serviceable enough. The majority of Eckhart’s performance is done solo in a room where he talks over a radio and smokes cigarettes, but a rousing speech given at the picture’s conclusion was probably the reason he tackled the project. The film also fades to black with Eckhart staring poignantly directly into camera. Meyers feels like an Irishman playing a southern soldier – which is exactly what he is – but he remains a compelling presence.
“Ambush” isn’t the greatest or most apropos title for this flick. I would’ve preferred “Ditch Diggers” or “Tunnel Rats” (German schlockmeister Uwe Boll already used this name for his 2008 offering concerning a similar subject). It isn’t the best war movie I’ve ever seen nor is it the worst. Come for the subgenre trappings, stay for Paolo.