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Film review: McHale's Navy

Film is a lot like star Tom Arnold - big, bombastic, but with no substance.

Published: Friday, April 18 1997 1:59 p.m. MDT

"McHale's Navy" is a lot like its star, Tom Arnold — big and bombastic, with no substance.

Recognizing Arnold's limited comic ability, however, the filmmakers wisely cast him as the straight man and surround him with supposed laugh-getters like David Alan Grier (TV's "In Living Color"), French Stewart ("3rd Rock From the Sun"), Bruce Campbell ("The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.") and, believe it or not, Dean Stockwell ("Quantum Leap").

Less wisely, however, the filmmakers then give them nothing to do.

"McHale's Navy" is, of course, based on the '60s TV sitcom — here updated to the present day. The popular series starred Ernest Borgnine as McHale, Tim Conway as Ensign Parker and the late Joe Flynn as their blustery commanding officer, Capt. Binghampton.

And here, Stockwell actually has the nerve to imitate Flynn's whiny, nasal voice, working himself into a frenzy over little or nothing, while Grier takes on a weird prissy posture for Conway's old role — and then drops that stance about halfway through the film. Borgnine himself shows up in an extended cameo as "Cobra," a Pentagon admiral.

But Arnold plays it straight most of the way, in a seemingly sincere effort to actually play a character.

The plot, such as it is, has Russian villain Major Vladikov (Tim Curry, as yet another over-the-top, eye-rolling comic bad-guy) building a huge missile base on a Caribbean island right near a U.S. naval base — his first step in a march toward world domination.

He also has a grudge against McHale. How mean is Vladikov? He purposely builds his base on a kids baseball diamond, then proceeds to blow up the nearby village.

So, retired naval officer McHale, who has taken a young orphan under his wing and pledged his life to protect the island people (he also coaches the baseball team), gathers up his old crew of misfits and tries to stop Vladikov.

Like the TV series, the movie is sort of a seafaring version of "Sgt. Bilko," abounding with scams — except that this big-screen version is bigger, louder, more chaotic and a lot less clever.

The film is loaded with huge explosions and fireballs — more than any film in recent memory. Maybe it should be titled "Backdraft II."

Meanwhile, Vladikov, in a stealth James Bond boat, spends a lot of his time chasing McHale's souped-up PT 73.

And in a final burst of lack-of-creativity, the film steals the twist-ending from the movie version of "Maverick."

This is strictly kiddie fare — but only if the kids are undiscriminat-ing.

"McHale's Navy" is rated PG for lots of mayhem and some double-entendre vulgarity.