by Matt Smith
Released to a pretty disappointing set of reviews and a bad few weeks in limited release at the box office, Stateside is everything we might expect. That the film is not terribly good is a bit of a tragedy in and of itself, since early on it shows such promise. We get the set up of a spoiled kid given the chance to go into the Marine Corps instead of prison after a DWI incident in which his private school’s headmaster nearly dies. We get another set up of an actress who starts to go crazy and loses her gigs. They meet-cute and do all the things we would expect, except at least this part’s handled well.
The guy, played by Jonathan Tucker, is Mark Deloach, and the girl is Dori Lawrenche (Rachael Leigh Cook). Mark and Dori meet while Mark is on leave from the Marines and form a relationship that then becomes the focus of the film’s plot. Everyone is trying to keep them apart, telling Mark that he makes Dori’s mental illness worse when he comes around, but he doesn’t listen – repeatedly – and eventually they end up together. That’s about the extent of what happens. After the first half hour, it’s all downhill.
But early on, though, before Mark and Dori take over the movie, the film shows some promise as a coming-of-age film. Val Kilmer plays the scriptwriting 101 tough-as-nails drill sergeant, but he does well, and he’s relatively subdued for what these roles always call for (R. Lee Ermy in Full Metal Jacket, if we’re being honest). After finding out that Mark is some rich kid who got sent to the Marines instead of jail, the sergeant decides to test him and see if he’s actually cut out for the service. After a series of training montages, we find out, hey – the kid’s got it. Big surprise.
Apparently the character of Dori is loosely based on the life of actress Sarah Holcomb, who appeared in a number of films in the late 1970s and is best known as the under-aged daughter of the mayor in Animal House. This, at least, is interesting, though I wish that Dori’s background prior to her schizophrenic breakdown would have been fleshed out a bit more. As is, we get the sense that she was known, and was involved in a show and a band, but we never have any context. Which is really the problem I have with the whole movie.
The final half is a miasma of romantic drama cliches with no sign of stopping. We get the lovers torn apart, supposedly by Mark’s deployment as much as the intrusion of other people though we never see what’s actually going on with the Marines. As if that weren’t enough, we also get the reunited lovers at the end of the film who face the future with uncertainty. Rest assured, everything else is all up in this piece, too. If the best part of the film – Kilmer’s turn as drill sergeant – is a big bucket of cliche, then you have a pretty good idea of what its worst parts are.
The Komplete Val Kilmography (2003-2012) is a twice weekly column that will run through the summer. I will be viewing and writing about each film Val Kilmer appeared in (as long as I can track down a copy of it) in the past decade.