Producers: David Michael Latt   Director: Nick Lyon   Screenplay: George Clymer   Cast: Eric Roberts, William Baldwin, Geoff Meed, Danny Trejo, Isaac Cruz, Daniel Johnstone, Derek Justin Yates, Rob Riordan, Karel Ebergen, Cap Peterson, Noah Blake, Lincoln Hoppe, Connor Tribole, Marcel Miller, Jens Lucking, Johnny Santiago, Eric St. John, Ben Leasure, Jordan Campbell, Danny T. Miller and Craig Gellis     Distributor: Shout! Studio

Grade: D

A few nuggets of history can be discerned in this World War II naval movie, but most of it is ham-fisted fiction.  The best thing you can say about “The Rebels of PT-218” is that it’s ambitious; unfortunately, its ambitions are beyond the capability of an obviously limited budget to realize.  Indeed, some sequences are so small-scaled that they might encourage you to think of Ed Wood.

To get the history out of the way, there was a vessel called the SS Lawton B. Evans, the ship on which the action here is set.  It was one of many so-called Liberty Ships used mainly for support purposes, like cargo carrying, in the latter stages of the war.  And it was involved in a run-in with a German submarine early in 1943—an event alluded to in a bit of dialogue.  There was also an Operation Avalanche—the invasion of the Italian peninsula by Allied forces from Sicily in September 1943.    

But from there the script by the late George Clymer is close to being sheer invention.  The Evans is conflated with the PT-218, a motor torpedo boat that was active in the Mediterranean in 1943.  It’s skippered by one Lieutenant William Snow (Eric Roberts), known as a maverick with a reckless streak.  But he and his crew are given an important mission by General Omar Bradley (William Baldwin): to support a couple of PT-boats carrying a team to destroy several big guns onshore that could seriously impede, even prevent, the troops from landing.  But Snow’s second-in-command Ensign Ford (Geoff Meed) is tasked by Bradley’s aide to inform him if the lieutenant should stray from his orders.

Snow does precisely that, of course, choosing to attack a German submarine cruising in the area.  He manages to destroy it, but is unable to prevent the sinking of the PT-boats.  With the concurrence of his men he then undertakes an unauthorized commando mission to destroy the artillery himself, though that will draw the attention of the German aircraft nearby to his ship.  The crew man the on-deck guns to shoot several planers down, though some men are lost to enemy fire. 

All of this is pure invention, a scenario that blends “The Enemy Below” with “The Guns of Navarone” in a fashion that allows virtually every cliché of the rough-and-ready wartime genre to be resurrected, but on a miniscule budget.  The sequences set in the ship’s interior, as well as those in General Bradley’s “headquarters,” look as though they were shot in closets, and the VHS work supervised by Glenn Campbell can charitably be described as subpar.  All of the craft work, from Pedja Radenkovic’s cinematography to Margo Graxeda’s production design and Maximilian Elfeldt’s editing, barely passes muster.  Mikel Shane Prather’s score tries to inject some vitality, but comes across as simply blowsy.

As for the acting, restraint is something director Nick Lyon has never become acquainted with.  Everybody goes overboard in the he-man histrionic department, which—in the case of Roberts and Trejo in particular—is saying a lot.  But with all the hokey dialogue provided by Clymer, it’s difficult to imagine they could have done anything differently.  The obligatory death sequences are especially embarrassing.

The fact that “The Rebels of PT-218” is a hodgepodge of history and wartime melodrama is bad enough; the inept execution just makes it worse.