George Clooney strikes again. Looking up his C.V., I’ve got at most four more films I have immediate access to until I get to one that’s even half decent (From Dusk Till Dawn), and that’s skipping six I can’t find yet! My god his early career was appalling. And then straight after Dusk I’ve got the one-two double punch of One Fine Day and Batman and Robin. I am really beginning to regret this decision, but its too late now.
Anyway, Combat Academy. In case you hadn’t guessed from the title and the 1986 release date, this is an attempt at a rip-off of the hugely popular Police Academy, down to copying the poster style and title typography, but this time set around a military school. However, the key area they failed to take inspiration from is in the use of colourful, quirky characters, engaging yet entertaining performances, and the inclusion of actual jokes. There’s even a commanding officer with a tank-bound pet. They can’t even blame it on coincidence either, as director Neal Israel was on script duty for Police Academy.
Two high school pranksters, Perry and Max (Wallace Langham and Keith Gordon) are kicked out of school on the first day back from summer vacation, and are sentenced to spending a year at Kirkwood Military Academy, due to having 238 separate acts of hijinks each on their permanent records. Two hundred and thirty eight. I’m pretty sure some point before the 50th time he found a herd of pigs in the library their headmaster would have instilled some discipline, contacted the authorities or just flat out killed the little shits. Anyway, the kids’ parents are disappointed in their kids (Perry’s dad is John Ratzenberger! Hell yes!) and don’t mind too much to see them be sent off to learn a few lessons in obedience, but the guys themselves are less than happy with the situation. However, seeing as Max at least is one of the least likable leads I’ve ever watched in a film, I had to agree with the parents. Max is a dick. Plain and simple. He incessantly causes havoc around himself purely for kicks, and doesn’t give a moment’s thought to repercussions to himself or those around him, particularly the stuttering, nervous Perry whom he drags down with him wherever he goes. And Keith Gordon is certainly no Steve Guttenberg, and his overuse of obnoxious, predictable and hokey one-liners just makes him all the more detestable. Perry on the other hand is somewhat likable, but is such a wet fish that he fails to register.
The two rub their commanding officers, George Clooney and Kevin Haley, up the wrong way early on, but by this point I’d stopped paying too much attention to the meagre plot – there’s a thief in the academy, some visiting Russian cadets, Perry falls in love and Max is trying to pull a Mahoney and get himself kicked out – and focused instead on the terrible performances on display here, particularly from Kevin Haley, who is possibly the most wooden an actor I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help that he’s partnered up with Clooney for several scenes, but still. In fact, none of the actors seems to be in the same film as one another, at least in the sense that for the entire 96 minute runtime there isn’t a drop of chemistry between any of them, including the two leads who have apparently been best friends for over a decade.
The closest the film comes to a comical character is in the academy’s science teacher Col. Long (Richard Moll), who aims for eccentric but overshoots to certifiable. Amongst the rest of the cast, look out for Danny Nucci (Titanic‘s Fabrizzio), Elya Baskin (Spiderman‘s landlord) and Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson). Of the leads, Keith Gordon went on to become a TV director, working on the likes of Dexter and House, whilst Wallace Langham played Kirby, the guy who signed in the Hooper family at the pageant in Little Miss Sunshine.
Elsewhere, the film suffers from an outrageous 80s soundtrack and the worst effects shot in any film, ever, when Max attempts to show off some kind of stunt during a paintball match that probably was supposed to involve him throwing his gun high in the air and catching it again, but which he clearly fumbled so they used the footage of him throwing it, then played it backwards for 2 seconds to make it look as though he caught the gun again. Did director Neal Israel, who directed the Tom Hanks classic Bachelor Party, really think he was going to get away with that? Not on my watch, bucko.
There are plenty of missed opportunities for comedy to be mined too. Firstly, the pranks the pair pull are all either incredibly tired or have no resounding effect on anything – lockers explode whilst people standing nearby remain oblivious, and switching the signs on the restrooms is just hokey, pre-teen nonsense.
So, is there any reason at all to watch this film? If so, I can’t think of it. It is entirely devoid of anything approaching humour, features some very heavy handling of moral issues – Clooney’s Major Biff Woods (yes, that’s his name) just wants to please his Daddy – suffers from a hastily tied up resolution via an out of character rousing speech, hideous acting and completely and utterly fails to be comparable to even Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow.
Choose life, 1/10