Directed by: Scott Martin
Written by: Scott Martin
Cast: Scott Martin, Clint Glenn Hummel, Andreas Lyons, Dennis LaVelle
Here's something I haven't seen in many a moon: a WWII movie that pits good 'ol cigar chomping G.I.s against leatherclad Nazis while the bigger theater rages in the background. Battle Force is neither in the vein of a sweeping epic or over the top borderline satire; it's straight meat and potatoes entertainment, and sometimes, that may be all you need for a good time.
Battle Force is loosely based on a real special forces unit of American and Canadian soldiers whose job was not that different from, say, a bunch of reputationally compromised children from unmarried parents. They do the nasty jobs, the suicide missions, the ones where extreme force is required.
The film takes place in 1943, on the eve of the invasion of Fascist and Nazi occupied Sicily. Captain Lyle Lewis (Dennis LaValle, Black Sea Raid, Bad News Bears) and his men are on a mission to plant false intelligence on the shores of Sicily to mislead the Nazis on when "Operation Husky" is to occur. The group is ambushed by the forces of Reinhardt Von Klaus (Andreas Lyons, CSI: New York), and Lewis is captured. Lt. Allen Wright (writer/director Scott Martin, best known for co-writing and appearing in last year's horror flick The Rig) is tasked with recovering Lewis before the Nazis can get the truth out of him, and possibly ferret out an Axis spy for the process. Wright assembles a force for battling, including the honey voiced Mississippi native Sgt. Douglas E. Dickie (Clint Glenn Hummel, The Quick and the Undead, Fleshkeeper), and meeting up with Sicilian resistance fighters led by Antonio (Alberto Frezza) to ensure Operation Husky is a success.
According to the commentary included on the DVD (featuring Martin, Hummel, and a producer), Battle Force was written in a week off (!), given a budget of $75,000 with $35,000 to actually shoot it (!!), and principal photography was completed in just ten days (!!!). The film's credits have ISS Props above the title (and they do make damn good props). While the film is set in Sicily, it's clear that it's the shores of Malibu and other California countryside masquerading for Southern Italy. The special effects by Rogue State replicate everything from a gun firing to a fleet of bombers.
As you've probably gathered from my earlier reviews, I can tend to be harsh on small budgeted projects, how their reach can often exceed their grasp. Battle Force bucks the trend by not only working well within its means but actually being pretty darn good overall. The film is not perfect; there's an obvious dummy in one scene that's supposed to be a still living body, and some of the effects have seams in them. Sometimes the film's editing is a bit too choppy. There's also a few goofy shots near the end that seem to be reusing the same footage Overall, however, the majority of the film features smartly staged action sequences. Martin doesn't go for too much pyrotechnics, just either close quarters gun battles or one-on-one fight sequences. There are two fight scenes near the film's end that are particularly brutal (although oddly, this is the second Lion's Gate release I've seen in a row where the film's trailer gives away a climactic plot point, this time by showing one of the fights).
Martin's script is nothing particularly deep but it's decently thought out, without any glaring holes. The characters are thin with the exception of Dickie and Von Klauser, written as intentionally comic hero and villain, respectively. However, Martin takes care to sprinkle character moments throughout the narrative that give each of the men a moment to establish themselves as individuals and not simply cannon fodder. Martin is able to get some solid performances out of his cast, particularly Lyons, who bites into the role of Von Klaus with gusto, recalling some of my favorite Nazi bad guys from the Indiana Jones movies. Lyons is able to flirt with the edge of caricature without falling into it. The same can't be said for Hummel, whose Sgt. Dickie is almost TOO over the top always dealing one-liners and hitting on women, he seems out of place. However, Hummel is having so much fun it's hard to fully dislike him, even if you want him to dial it down a few notches. Martin makes for a decent lead with some dry wit. There's also some effective turns by Frezza and Stephanie Beran as the resistance fighters.
Even with the restrictions he's got, Martin is able to work in a scene late in the film of one of the characters shot and bleeding to death as the Nazis run by their body, which winds up unexpectedly moving.
Speaking of things unexpected - I have to admit, when I received the generic DVD screener copy (complete with the goofy tag line "THIS WAS THEIR CALL OF DUTY"), I kind of groaned and hoped the experience wouldn't be too painful. Instead it was fairly enjoyable. Battle Force won't win any awards, but it's refreshing to see a film that knows exactly what it wants to do, knows what resources it has to do it, and for his first full feature as a director, Scott Martin is a guy who knows how to get it done. I recommend Battle Force for those of you just looking for some green helmets and black helmets going at it. As I suggested earlier, it's meat and potatoes, and it's a good meal.