Film review: Navy Seals

Published: Monday, July 23 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Navy SEALS" is a B-grade action thriller with an A cast. If it weren't for the presence of Charlie Sheen, this picture would doubtless go straight to video.

Rudimentary action scenes give some minor punch to this by-the-numbers excuse for military mayhem that tries to be another "Guns of Navarone" but is more akin to "Fire Birds."

The title combat group — "SEALS" — is apparently quite real, but if the Navy thought this movie was going to be a recruiting film the top brass is no doubt cringing at the final product.

Charlie Sheen is the hotshot team member who gets high on shootouts but is too often a loose cannon. But it is Michael Biehn, of "The Terminator," "Aliens" and "The Abyss," who has what is essentially the lead role. He heads up this crack team of anti-terrorists, a sort of Navy SWAT team trained in "sea, air and land" maneuvers, hence the more-or-less acronym of the title.

Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, best known for her portrayal of Christine Keeler in "Scandal," is a half-Lebanese TV reporter who has a brief tryst with Biehn. Other team members include Rick Rossovich ("Roxanne") and Bill Paxton ("Near Dark").

The story has the SEALS trying to find U.S. hand-held "stinger" missiles stolen by Lebanese terrorists. Early in the film they spot the missiles during another operation, but there's no time to destroy them, so they leave them behind, barely escaping with their lives.

For that reason Biehn feels responsible when the missiles are used to shoot down a civilian plane, and since he finds military intelligence no help in locating them, he turns to Whalley-Kilmer, who has Middle East connections. "The CIA's giving us nothing," Biehn cries to Sheen. "She's all we've got!"

At first she won't cave in to Biehn's charms, but eventually they trade information, both violating ethics and logic. But then there's nothing very logical about this movie.

At one point, for example, Sheen, through a reckless act, is responsible for another team member being killed. But not only is Sheen not disciplined, he's no less reckless during their next assignment.

Then there's the film's half-hearted attempt at romantic conflict with Sheen making moves on Whalley-Kilmer, much to Biehn's chagrin.

There are also the expected music videos as team-members play golf, sort of, and otherwise clown around.

As mentioned, Biehn's character is nominally the lead, but director Lewis Teague ("Jewel of the Nile," "Cujo") clearly emphasizes Sheen's presence, which is no doubt a box-office concession. For his part, Sheen seems to be doing a Tom Cruise imitation, but "Navy SEALS" is no "Top Gun." And I wasn't that crazy about "Top Gun."

Sheen pushes his charm off the movie star chart, but even he can't overcome dialogue that requires him to be a lovable, crass, vulgar bigot. "Navy SEALS" is a major step backward from the likes of "Platoon" and "Wall Street."

Biehn and Whalley-Kilmer try hard to do something with very poorly written roles, but it's too much to ask. Rossovich and Paxton are given nothing to do.

As a pop techno-thriller, "Navy SEALS," rated R for violence and profanity, is a disappointment on every count.