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film review

Land of Bad

Directed by William Eubank

Written by David Frigerio and William Eubank

Starring Liam Hemsworth, Luke Hemsworth and Russell Crowe

Classification 14A; 110 minutes

Opens in theatres Feb. 16

A muscular but ultimately standard behind-enemy-lines thriller, Land of Bad arrives in theatres this weekend with a mission that has already proven impossible: turn Liam Hemsworth into an action hero on par with his older brother Chris. But if the Hunger Games, Independence Day and Expendables franchises couldn’t do it, I’m not sure what possessed Land of Bad director William Eubank to think that he was the man for the job.

Perhaps sensing this challenge, Eubank even brought in an extra Hemsworth sibling, the perennially outshone eldest son Luke, to help Liam go from pretty bro to Rambo. Here, the two are cast as U.S. Delta Force teammates parachuted into the Philippines for an extraction mission that immediately goes awry. Largely on his own in the jungle, Liam’s soldier Kinney is forced to rely on his wits, and the guidance of a U.S. Air Force drone pilot code-named Reaper (Russell Crowe) stationed half a world away in Las Vegas, to survive. (There’s no artistic reason why the film is filled with Australian actors playing Americans, though I suspect tax-credits had something to do with it, given the film was mostly shot in Queensland.)

While the younger Hemsworth never quite grows into his lone-soldier role, the first hour of Land of Bad offers a number of diverting narrative and aesthetic choices to distinguish it from its dozens of genre competitors. Together with co-writer David Frigerio, Eubank takes a slow-and-steady approach to Delta Force’s mission. Instead of having the boys come in guns-a-blazin’, the script allows for a certain degree of character development. And the filmmakers’ decision to split the onscreen action roughly half between the harsh jungle environs and the drab bureaucratic environs of Reaper’s office results in a compelling juxtaposition of danger and politics, not to mention some fine comic-relief moments for Crowe, huffing and puffing as if Tony Soprano had opted for a life in the armed forces.

Yet once Land of Bad establishes its stakes – one man versus an army – the film settles all too comfortably into war-machine territory, minus any particularly inventive kills or sense of style. By the time that Kinney is elevated (or rather reduced) to a shirtless, Bowie knife-wielding terminator, any exhilaration is replaced by a kind of obligatory relentlessness. Yadda yadda yadda, and that’s how I survived the terrorists, mate.

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