Shelf Life: Charlie Sheen’s “Navy SEALs”


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Although there will always be something primal and urgent about action movies that connects with their fans on a visceral level, the authenticity their execution has varied wildly throughout the years. Some are highly stylized, exaggerated adventures as exhilarating as they are detached from any tangible reality, and others exude a chilling believability that makes viewers recoil even as they grow more invested. And on last Friday, Relativity Media took a little from column A and a little from column B for “Act of Valor,” a military adventure starring real, active-duty Navy SEALs whose “realism” will strike some as riveting and others as risible.

But Navy SEALs have been portrayed on film several times in the past, perhaps most notably in the film of the same name, “Navy SEALs.” The 1990 film, directed by Lewis Teague, mythologizes the “off-the-books” branch while taking pages from the playbooks of almost every military movie in the previous decade, which is probably one of the big reasons why it was poorly received upon its initial release. But two-plus decades later, was it more prescient or accurate or just plain entertaining that audiences once thought it was? This week’s “Shelf Life” investigates to find out.

The Facts

Released July 20, 1990, “Navy SEALs” was not a commercial success; although it debuted in theaters at No. 4 at the box office, it earned little bit more than $25 million during its theatrical run. No numbers are available for its home video revenues, but by all accounts it was more successful there. Meanwhile, the film earned only a 19 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, receiving four positive reviews and 17 negative ones.

What Still Works

The irony of my statement about it being derivative above is that “Navy SEALs” probably works best as a nostalgia piece, a portrait of where action movies were at by 1990 – or ones without high-profile stars or directors, anyway. After all, it almost exclusively stars actors whom audiences identified with military-themed movies – Charlie Sheen (“Platoon”), Michael Biehn (“The Terminator,” “Aliens”), Rick Rossovich (“Top Gun”) and Bill Paxton (“Aliens”) – and it exhibits the last vestiges of ‘80s leading-man super-heroics that in many ways helped its predecessors become such iconic pieces of entertainment.

“Top Gun” is the movie’s most obvious template, as much because of the character dynamic between Sheen’s Dale Hawkins and the rest of his team as the film’s dubious if frequently amusing attribution of accuracy to its story. Like “Top Gun” it’s less propaganda than a masturbatory celebrations of the military, and it offers an ennobling look at the lives and careers of soldiers, chronicling both their heroism in action and their camaraderie off the battlefield.

Conversely, Biehn’s seeming inability (at least at that time in his career) to play a character capable of real joy or lightheartedness works like gangbusters for his character, whose control over Hawkins is tenuous at best despite the ongoing realization that what he and his men are fighting for is nothing to be dismissed or looked down upon. Plus, he lives on a houseboat, which is one of the greater action-movie clichés of all time.

And while I’ll always have a soft spot for practical effects, the film’s set pieces are genuinely impressive, especially during the finale, in which the producers created a rich and detailed battle zone for the heroes to fight through. And even if Sheen and the rest did none of their own stunts (the big ones, anyway), there are a couple of cool little gags in the film, such as when Sheen’s character jumps out of a moving jeep, off of a bridge, into a river, and when the character later chases down a tow truck, jumps onto the bed, releases his car, and drives backwards in order to rescue his car without being smashed to bits by an oncoming 18-wheeler.

What Doesn’t Work

Particularly in retrospect, the film’s cartoonish sense of individualism. While the choice to make Maverick a “hot shot who lives fast and plays by his own rules” not only made Tom Cruise a bona fide star but worked enormously well within the confines of that story, Sheen’s character is no Maverick, and by the third or fourth mission he goes on in the film, he would, or at least should have been punished for outright insubordination. At one point Hawkins’ disobedience gets one of his team members killed, and it’s almost as if you can hear the break of dawn of the Age of Entitlement, where now characters (much less people) aren’t required to atone or sometimes even acknowledge their mistake; while he admits he “fucked up,” there’s never really any catharsis or payoff to the realization that him not doing his job right ended with someone else literally being killed, and even at the end, his defiance is looked at ambivalently, if not embraced via his decision to go back in (against orders) and rescue a superior officer.

Hawkins’ insubordination is unfortunately the tip of a very large iceberg in terms of the film’s egregious inaccuracies, all of which are discernible to even the most casual viewer. In battle, none of the soldiers wear helmets, instead donning do-rags or nothing at all, and their strategies in the field are feeble-minded at best, and consistently are created with seemingly complete ignorance of the particulars of the assignment, who they might see, how to handle situations, or what sort of opposition they might encounter.

Finally, the dialogue isn’t just on the nose, it’s in it: after a rescued pilot tells the team “you guys are amazing,” Biehn says, “there’s no reason to thank us. We don’t exist. This never happened.” And when it’s not stupidly underscoring plot points or highlighting subtext, the dialogue is often comprised of one-liners that aren’t even clever, such as when Biehn tells Sheen to cool it. Sheen responds, “I’m cool – you should see me when I’m hot!”

The Verdict

“Navy SEALs” isn’t an outright bad film – it would need to be more ambitious to have failed so nobly – but in general it’s pretty boring and consistently mediocre. That doesn’t necessarily to do with the performances as much as it does the script, which is assembled largely from ‘80s blockbuster clichés and the thinnest pretense of real-world accuracy, which is why it hasn’t endured as one of the great thrillers of its era. All in all, “Navy SEALs” is too bland and unexciting to inspire much love or hate – which is probably why a movie like “Act of Valor” can come along, champion its military bona fides with confidence, and somehow not feel like a sorry follow-up.

Leave your own impressions of “Navy SEALs” in the comments below!

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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