gen x movie review windtalkersWhat little novelty is embedded in the new war film Windtalkers is obliterated well before the final, well-rehearsed battle scene. The small spark of imagination that may drive many of you to the theaters simply can’t survive the systematic charge of formula writing, bad acting and -- honestly -- not very good action shots.

Windtalkers is about Navajo Americans who were recruited as Marines and trained to use their language as code during World War II. The story follows several Navajos as they battle at the front lines on Japanese soil. Italian-American killing machine Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is assigned to protect one of the “windtalkers.” Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) is a sweet young Navajo father. Pairing off against Yahzee and Enders is another GI pair played by Christian Slater and Roger Willie.

Enders is a fearless soldier, but he isn’t much of a person, and a love story attached to the plot feels like an unnatural appendage. The idea that Enders could love anyone or anything is preposterous, since he is the “vengeful spirit of retribution!” TM  not a mere mortal. You could plumb this guy’s psychological depth in a bath tub and the film feels insincere when it tries to paint him as a tortured hero.

And although the film pretends to address an interesting premise -- Native Americans in World War II -- it is really all about seeing Cage rage into battles like a Rambo knock-off.

The battle scenes are choreographed oddly and often repeat the same showy explosion over and over again. Worse still, one gets the feeling that wars are fought by a half dozen guys and several hundred extras. It’s as though the battle shots were intended for one hero, not an army. As a result the film feels like an action film with an extended cast rather than a war epic.

Soldiers wander off to perform sacred magic rituals or just skinny dip in serene bathing nooks. It’s like Woodstock with cheesy Navaho flute playing and you wonder how we ever beat the Japanese with such free spirits. Hey man, do you, like, want to kill some Japanese soldiers..?, you can almost hear these soldiers say.

It’s a good thing these hippies have the formula to keep them straight. Windtalkers is so prefabricated that it should be sold in a cereal box at Wal-Mart. Flat-as-a-pancake characters, paint-by-numbers battles, well-recognized clichés – Windtalkers is so formulaic that it is less itself than merely a reconfiguration of the genre. But you have to admire the way the film courageously avoids being merely just another intense, psychological drama about the horrors of war, yes?

Films like Windtalkers are amazingly relaxing affairs because they say, “It’s okay, you don’t have to pay attention to the story line. You know how every conflict is going to be resolved. Just turn your brain right off, buddy.” This is a real treat, because it means you can allow your mind to wander in all sorts of fascinating places.

You might, for example, wonder what Christian Slater put in his hair in 1983 that has kept it so rigid throughout the last two decades. Alternatively, you may try to recollect when Nicolas Cage wasn’t playing a 40-year-old burn out. These are fun little internal debates and they really do help you forget the mediocrity going on in front of you.

I began considering the similarities of the name “Yahzee” and the popular dice game Yahtzee. I recalled a long trip I’d taken to Florida with my aunt Doris and her family when I was maybe 10. We drove an RV-like truck across country and I often found myself shoved in the small space that overlapped the cab. The only time I’d come down from my nest was to go to the bathroom or play Yahtzee with Doris or my cousins.

I recall the feeling of confinement and subtle manipulation, as though I was folded away in a drawer somehow and only taken out to be beaten senseless in some travel game. Watching Windtalkers was similar somehow – I felt at the service of the code, like those new age video games where your only goal is to complete a story line some creepy cyberpunk had dreamed up – but of course I liked my aunt and cousins, whereas I cheered for the characters in Windtalkers to be blown to cardboard pieces…

And unlike Yahtzee, which is largely a game of luck, there is nothing even remotely unpredictable, unexpected or interesting about Windtalkers. It’s like playing solitaire with a fixed deck of cards.


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