Picks and Pans Review: Heartbreak Ridge

updated 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/05/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

For all his excesses, John Wayne never really let himself become a caricature. Clint Eastwood, by most measures the inheritor of Wayne's mantle as National Hero Laureate, is not so fortunate. Then again, he has only himself to blame, since he directed this film. It's about a battle-weary, world-weary Marine sergeant who can't hear someone clear his throat without being so offended he is moved to utter 80 or 90 obscenities and bust heads and elbows, none of them his own. The movie is disappointing in other ways too. For one thing, the gruesome battle referred to in the title, a major confrontation of the Korean War, is not in this film, except as a historical inspiration to the modern Marines it focuses on. Screenwriter Jim Carabatsos (yes, the very guy who wrote No Mercy) is a Vietnam vet. Yet he seems to have no idea of how men fight, get along or talk. (In both this movie and No Mercy the same incredibly dumb line appears: A man, about to do a favor for another man but apparently fearful the action will be misinterpreted as an act of affection, snarls, "This doesn't mean I want to trade warm spit with you.") Grim noncom Eastwood and the undisciplined squad of young Marines he inherits, as well as their officers, are all stereotypes. And the battle they eventually fight in is the 1983 invasion of Grenada. While it was no doubt more than enough war for the men who fought in it, Grenada is hardly the stuff of which glory is made. The only moments in the film that have the texture of reality are Eastwood's encounters with Marsha Mason, the ex-wife who is still jealous of the Corps. Whether it's Eastwood's natural gallantry coming into play or some honest-to-goodness acting, he defers to Mason in such a vulnerable way that he seems more like a man, less like a cardboard figure. It is the only thing he does in the film that seems to mean anything. (R)

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