Warbirds (2008)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reviewed by The Foywonder

Staring Jamie Mann, Brian Krause, Tohoru Masmune, Lucy Faust, David Jensen,

Directed by Kevin Gendreau

Last year the Sci-Fi Channel gave us a movie set during World War 2 about American soldiers and pilots fighting gargoyles and Nazis behind enemy lines starring a cast member of the show "Charmed". This year they're giving us a WW2 creature feature about American soldiers and pilots battling prehistoric pterodons and Japanese soldiers on an island in the South Pacific, also starring a cast member of "Charmed". If the pattern continues then next year Holly Marie Combs should find herself starring in a Sci-Fi Channel original movie about American soldiers and nurses trying to save Pearl Harbor from an attack by dragons.

Warbirds tries to put a bit of a twist on things by introducing a heavy dose of girl power to the mix. That’s about the only twist it puts on tired material. This is just another movie about soldiers on an island battling a generic monster menace.

An all-female B-29 crew who sport military issued hair, make-up, and nail polish - at least that's my guess given the uncanny similarity of their appearances - are assigned a secret transport mission across the South Pacific; along for the ride is a handful of male soldiers under the command of Charmed's Brian Krause, giving a performance that screams "I’m collecting an easy paycheck.”

After something takes out one of their engines, they narrowly manage to put the plane down on a nameless atoll. They'll soon come to discover that this island is also the base of some Japanese soldiers and home to prehistoric pterodons that apparently didn't get the extinction memo.

At least I think they were supposed to be pterodons. Decent CGI, but they looked more like smaller versions of Q, The Winged Serpent than pterodactyls as we know'em. Had they called them dragons and allowed winged reptiles to spit fire most viewers would have never known the difference.

Heck, even the Japanese soldiers in this film didn't seem believably Japanese for the time. The Japanese commander at one point actually scolds his men for being too hasty to want to give their lives in battle? I kid you not.

In between griping and romance and plotting to escape the island, the ladies will occasionally take to the air, whether flying leftover Japanese Zeroes or their repaired B-29, allowing for some uninspired aerial dogfighting with the pteradons. Entirely too many cockpit headshots of the women pilots who, like all women on the telephone, simply cannot stop chattering amongst themselves over their radios, jabbering non-stop during their life or death air battles delivering stilted dialogue, damn near every line of which ends with someone saying "Over." It almost becomes comical after awhile - almost.

Writer-director Kevin Gendreau's seemed to be trying to capture the lingo of the era and even recreate some of the snappy banter heard in movies from the 1940's but neither he or his actors were up to the task; in part because everyone in Warbirds came across like they were just going through the motions, but also because nobody sounded authentic. It's not just the acting or dialogue that lacks authenticity, either; nobody even lights up a cigarette because, as we all know from having watched Saving Private Ryan, nobody smoked during the 1940s, least of all soldiers at war.

All in all, Warbirds is a nifty concept but not much of a movie. It's pretty mundane even by Sci-Fi Channel monster movie standards, not particularly bad, but very underwhelming and suffering from a serious lack of enthusiasm.

About the only surprise was my being wrong in my immediate prediction that the American and Japanese soldiers would be forced to work together in order to survive the pteradon onslaught. Not quite. Instead the Japanese soldiers end up being painted in a rather sympathetic light after it's discovered the B-29's secret cargo is the first A-bomb being delivered so it can be dropped on Japan. The movie kind of paints the US in a bad light over our atom bomb being a weapon of mass genocide. Harry S. Truman would disagree.

The most entertaining moment of Warbirds for me came not from the movie itself, but from a graphic that appeared on the bottom of the screen informing viewers that the Sci-Fi Channel is now available in HD. Yowzer! Now we'll all be able to view these great Xbox 360 cut scene computer effects in all their high definition glory. Call your cable company now!


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