THE MARINE

Anyone with a hankering for low-budget, logic-free action shlock of the sort that mini-studios like Cannon used to churn out in the 1980s, usually for “stars” like Michael Dudikoff and David Bradley, is directed to “The Marine.” Nowadays such explosion-laced, fisticuff-heavy, utterly brainless stuff is sent directly to cable or the DVD bin, but World Wrestling Entertainment has resurrected it for the big screen to showcase their stable of muscle-men, and so this retro piece of inanity is being brought to theatres via Twentieth Century Fox. It won’t be long before you can catch it on Spike TV, though.

John Cena, a wrestling star of the generation after Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, plays John Triton, a Marine drummed out of the service for disobeying orders to save some comrades about to be executed by terrorists in Iraq. Back home in South Carolina with wife Kate (Kelly Carlson), he ankles a security job after one day–having dealt rather too harshly with an irate building “guest” and his bodyguards–and then stumbles into a bad situation when he and Kate take a drive to the mountains. At a gas station they happen to run into a gang of thieves who’ve just robbed a diamond exchange, and before long the bad guys have offed a couple of cops, stolen the Triton SUV with a kidnapped Kate inside, and left John for dead back in the station’s smoldering ruins. But John’s not gone, of course; and soon he’s hot on the trail. From this point on the movie is nothing but a succession of fights, chases, and explosions, leading to the inevitable happy ending.

Cena evinces no particular aptitude for acting in the title role; indeed, his delivery is so wooden, and so much of the running-time ignores him to focus on the villains and Kate, that one wonders whether the makers realized his severe limitations and purposely shunted him off to the side. There’s a plus to this, though, in that more time is devoted to Robert Patrick’s turn as Rome, the chief baddy. He plays the guy as jovially malevolent, offhandedly shooting people at the slightest whim and mugging it up for the camera in a succession of well-timed reaction shots. The script also gets points for dropping in an allusion to the“Terminator” series, in the second installment of which Patrick played a memorable villain, and allowing him to do an ostentatious double-take to it. (Sure, the joke’s hardly golden, but it’s the best one finds here.)

Unfortunately, Patrick’s confederates don’t match him. Anthony Ray Parker, who’s supposed to provide comic relief as the black member of the gang, is stuck with really tired shtick and tries to pump it up too much; Abigail Bianca works overly hard to be tough as Rome’s moll (and we didn’t really need that catfight between her and Carlson); and Manu Bennett is a wash as the handsome one. (His character is named Bennett, too, perhaps to make the acting job easier.) As for Carlson, you have to sympathize with anybody playing a character who gets punched so frequently and spends so much time trussed up. Jerome Ehlers is pallid as a cop whose demeanor is suspicious from the get-go.

“The Marine” is laxly directed by John Bonito, especially in the one-on-one fight scenes, where one might have expected Cena to shine. They’re choreographed very unimaginatively, though, and shot by David Eggby too close in, so that the action is oddly blurry and unfocused. More care seems to have been lavished on the numerous explosions, which fill the screen impressively, often in slow motion. These guys might not know how to construct a narrative or develop characters a whit, but they sure do blow things up good.

Which is probably appropriate for a bomb like “The Marine.”