Equipped with just enough charm to keep things hooky past its seemingly none-too-flash budget, Tour of Duty is still a rather limp, uninspired effort in quasi-sci-fi military filmmaking. There’s an undeniably odd mixture here of a run-of-the-mill story being coupled with a script that’s trying to translate some of the excitement it feels into something the audience can enjoy. Fact is, it’s the script that’s having the most fun with this film, and it just can’t seem to get anyone else to exude any form of individuality for the film.
Tour of Duty’s well-tread plot focuses on a crack team of mercenaries sent into the barren and volatile regions of snowy Afghanistan to retrieve a package. However, each member blacks out mid-mission and they awake to find themselves in a top secret military facility that’s desperately keen to know what became of their mission. As the soldier’s fuzzy memories slowly return to them, piece by piece, secrets are spilled like blood, and a mission for a package morphs into a mission for survival.
Aside from the above plot featuring a script that delights in flashbacks that piece together the story’s wider picture, everything here is rather two-dimensional. The heroes are all tough, rugged solider-types without much uniqueness to separate their personalities. If anything, it’s the heroes’ appearances that manage to distinguish them, as if they all know just how tradable their personas are. Tahmoh Penikett spends as much time with his shirt off as possible so you can separate his abs from sidekick Lesley-Ann Brandt’s unkempt, bronze shock of short air.
Because of this moulding of the characters, the audience can’t feel for them, even when the film tries valiantly to make them give a damn about Penikett’s character, Major John Cafferty, via some groan-worthy family issues. The other characters aren’t even given some form of backstory, rendering them as near-irrelevant shells that only exist to drive the surprisingly tense script along as briskly as possible.
But there are still some things to enjoy about Tour of Duty. Director Peter Winther does a commendable job in maintaining a damp, claustrophobic atmosphere throughout the film. From the snow-laden mountains of Afghanistan to the sterile interiors of the military centre, everything has a downer chill about it that gives Tour of Duty an effortless smoothness. The atmosphere that Winther creates lends a small but welcome amount of suspense to the plot, giving the film something of a kick.
Tour of Duty isn’t the sort of film to set the box office alight with earnings. It’s the sort of film one whacks on in the background on a Friday night when there’s beer and company flowing throughout the evening. Any deeper watching won’t exactly reward the viewer, but it’s got just enough juice in it to keep things rolling till the end without any beer bottles being thrown at it.
TOUR OF DUTY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: PETER WINTHER / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: TAHMOH PENIKETT, LESLEY-ANN BRANDT, COLM FEORE, ERICA DURANCE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW