Producers: Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstern, Arianne Fraser, Petr Jakl, Mark Fasano, David Frigerio, William Eubank, Michael Jefferson and Adam Beasley   Director: William Eubank   Screenplay: David Frigerio and William Eubank   Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, Luke Hemsworth, Ricky Whittle, Milo Ventimiglia, Chika Ikogwe, Daniel MacPherson and Robert Rabiah   Distributor: The Avenue

Grade: C

One of those movies about which, if you’re indulgent, you might say that it’s not bad for what it is (the implication being, not much). “Land of Bad” is a modern, modestly budgeted behind-enemy-lines actioner with ersatz “state-of-the-art” CGI drones to complement the gritty on-the-ground battlefield fireworks.  It will be a painless time-killer for action junkies and anyone wanting to see a burly Russell Crowe in fully uninhibited mode, but others will not be satisfied with treading such overfamiliar territory.

The movie is about a Special Forces extraction mission in the southern Philippines—the island of Jolo, specifically—where a CIA asset is reportedly being held prisoner.  The team consists of three hardened veterans—Captain John Sweet (Milo Ventimiglia), aka “Sugar,” Sergeant Abel (Luke Hemsworth) and Bishop (Ricky Whittle).  To the trio is added untested newbie Sergeant J.J. Kinney (Liam Hemsworth), a last-minute replacement for their usual communications man, responsible for contact with the drone operator back in Las Vegas who keeps watch on the terrain and launches missiles if that should become necessary.  In this case, that’s Eddie Grimm (Crowe), aka “Reaper,” a gruff, grizzled fellow whose career was hobbled by his volatile, insubordinate attitude, and his long-time partner Sergeant Nia Branson (Chika Ikogwe).  The sit at their consoles manning the “eyes in the sky” the ground team depends on. 

The target is apparently some sort of hydroelectric plant on the island, but as the team watches, it’s attacked by a bunch of Islamic radicals, members of the Abu Sayyaf group, led by Saeed Hashimi (Robert Rabiah), and when they threaten to kill a resident family, the team intervenes.  A firefight erupts and Kinney is apparently the sole survivor.  He flees into the jungle, pursued by what appears the be an inexhaustible supply of well-armed terrorists, depending on Reaper to arrange his helicopter rescue while helping him evade, or kill, the pursuers. 

Meanwhile back in Nevada Nia is having some trouble approaching Reaper for a favor regarding her impending marriage, while Reaper is nonplussed about several things.  One is a televised NCAA basketball game in which his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes are losing to the University of Tennessee Volunteers, the favorites of his officious colonel (Daniel MacPherson).  To make matters worse, someone has not only violated his kitchen stash but stolen his desk chair, and all the other soldiers at the facility are glued to the television, ignoring the phone, despite his having asked them to watch for an emergency call from his pregnant wife (his fourth).

Amid all this hullabaloo, at about halfway into the running-time, the mission to extract Kinney goes south, and he discovers others of his team have survived, one being held captive.  Observing the rule that no one should be left behind, he insists on going back to the compound, and Reaper must provide air support.  In the process the guy—who was originally nicknamed “Fruit Loops” by his squad because of his interest in a certain breakfast cereal (thankfully it wasn’t “Fruity”) but is now called “Playboy” instead—will himself get captured and tortured by the sneering Hashimi.  To make matters worse, Reaper will be pulled from duty by that pompous colonel, but only after arranging with Kinney to have missiles dropped on the compound at specified intervals to allow him to rescue his comrade and escape.

It all culminates in a rather ridiculous back-and-forth between scenes of the men on Jolo, trying desperately to save themselves before a fatal missile strike, and sequences of Reaper, forced from his perch at the monitors, shopping for his vegan wife’s favorites at the local grocery.  It becomes perfectly ludicrous when Kinney gets a call through to the squad room in Vegas to tell them to hold off the final strike, only to have a soldier take the phone off the hook—until Reaper, of course, rushes back to save the day, having gotten a call himself.

One understands that writer-director William Eubank and his script collaborator David Frigerio (both of whom also served as two of the movie’s many producers) felt it necessary to pile implausibility upon implausibility to try to ratchet up excitement in the last act, but even by genre standards they go too far.  That can also be said of the behind-the-camera crew—production designer Nathan Blanco Fourax, cinematographer Agustin Claramunt, editor Todd E. Miller, and the special effects team who, along with composer Brandon Roberts, work diligently to maintain an adrenaline rush, not only with plenty of firefights (luckily, the terrorists as usual prove poor shots, even with assault weapons and guns mounted on armored vehicles) and explosions but sequences of Reaper warning Kinney of threats from approaching gunmen and hunting dogs–as well as shots of a none-too-realistic drone launching missiles.  All the effort, however, can’t camouflage the essentially improbable nature of the scenario, with its innumerable hair’s-breadth escapes and close shaves.

The cast also give it their all.  Ventimiglia, Whittle and Luke Hemsworth make a convincingly macho trio—they even disabuse their young comrade about the supposedly “cleaner” nature of war by drone as opposed to direct combat, one of the better moments in the screenplay—and Liam Hemsworth takes his share of physical punishment like a man as he scrambles around the jungle (an Australian one standing in for Jolo).  By the end, of course, we’re to understand that he’s emerged from the ordeal tested and strong.  (It would be nice, however, if the line he spits out in response to his captured comrade’s query about his identity weren’t “It’s the Calvary.” Get it right, boy!)  And though Rabiah is just a stereotypical villain, Ikogwe brings some nice touches to the role of Reaper’s admiring partner.

The real hero of the piece, if it has one, is nonetheless Crowe, who throws caution to the winds with a grandiosely hammy turn as Reaper.  It’s hardly a great performance in any serious sense, but it’s fun to watch him chew the scenery with such abandon.  He also appears to have chewed a good deal of other things, as he’s no longer the well-muscled dude with sculptured pecs and flat stomach you’ll remember from “Gladiator.”  He’s still pretty light on his feet, though, as a closing little dance with Ikogwe proves.

He makes “Land of Bad” seem better than it actually is.  Or at least more tolerable.