SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE like old songs: Once you hear the first few bars, you can already anticipate the entire melody. The Walking Dead is such a movie--a few scenes into the picture and you're tapping your toes to the familiar tune of Vietnam victimhood. Oh, sure, the film poses as "the untold story" of blacks in Vietnam, but it's just the same violent song sung in a different voice.
And what a voice. It wouldn't be so bad if the different voice were a better voice, like Aretha Franklin covering a song by Doris Day. But it's more like M.C. Hammer covering Elvis: You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog--Can't Touch This. And We're Dancing to the Jailhouse Rock--Can't Touch This. And We're Killing the Viet Cong--Can't Touch This.
The Walking Dead labors mightily to sound black, so the script contains such glorious scraps of dialogue as "Suck my ball" and "Shee-it" repeated about 100 times. This wouldn't be a problem if writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II had bothered to put something worthwhile in the in-between spaces, but he forgot.
The predictable story begins with a small group of Marines hopping off a chopper in the Vietnam jungle. Their mission: to find a POW camp and then wait for backup. Their Screenplay Mission: to talk. Talk and talk and talk. Shee-it.
After a few deadly run-ins with the Viet Cong, there are only four Marines left, each of them black. And surprise, surprise, surprise, each one has his own individual story to tell about Why I Came To Vietnam, complete with flashback.
Over the course of the movie, we learn that: Cole (Allen Payne) joined the Corps as an apparent result of being denied an apartment because he was black; Hoover (Eddie Griffin) joined the service after his white boss fired him because he stole some meat to impress a girl (yes, this is an actual plotline); Barkley (Joe Morton), a former preacher, came to Nam as the result of an easy-to-guess mystery involving his wife and another man; and the young Brooks (Vonte Sweet) enlisted to prove to his girlfriend that he could be somebody. (Or in his unlucky case, some body.)
Oh yeah, and then there's the white soldier who goes insane and starts cutting off people's ears and doing mean things to hostages with a hot poker. Crazy white guy.
After a while, you come to realize the movie's only point is that Black Men In Vietnam Had It Rough. If it ain't Charlie out in the fields, it's The Man giving commands. And if it ain't The Man giving commands, it's The Man back home. And if it ain't The Man back home, it's the woman back home.
Maybe with a better script, this story would be worth telling. But it's more likely there are just some "untold stories" that can't sustain a full-length motion picture. There may be a difference between the white experience in Vietnam and the black experience (i.e. blacks may have been treated worse, or more often put on the front lines), but The Walking Dead fails to dramatize any such facts.
Evidently, the actors in The Walking Dead didn't think too highly of their task either. The press kit mentions an incident in which the actors were enlisted in a mock boot camp for purposes of authenticity.
The press kit states: "Eddie Griffin and Allen Payne had had enough after several days in the camp and orchestrated an elaborate escape plan which involved Griffin distracting Captain Dye (a well-known Hollywood military consultant) while Payne commandeered his cellular phone and dialed the production office for a pick-up. Dye was not pleased with the actors' efforts, claiming in all his years he had never lost an actor. The well-thought-out escape plan, however, proved to director Whitmore that the cast was acting as a true military unit."
What a cute anecdote. Actors trying to flee pre-production while the director remains in denial about how wonderfully everything is turning out. Now there's an "untold story" I'd like to see.
The Walking Dead is playing at Catalina (881-0616), El Dorado (745-6241) and Foothills (742-6174) cinemas.
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