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!


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.