December 5, 2019

SEMPER FI: One Bad Oyster
SEMPER FI (2019)
Starring Jai Courtney, Nat Wolff, Finn Wittrock, Beau Knapp, Arturo Castro, Leighton Castro. Directed by Henry-Alex Rubin. (99 min)

Review by Tiger the Terrible😾

Semper Fi tries to be many things at once, but doesn’t really succeed at any of them.

It’s the story of five close-knit buddies who also serve in the Marine reserves. They have “cool” nicknames and spend most of their off-time together, bowling, bonding and drinking...lots of drinking. The de-facto leader is Cal (Jai Courtney), a cop whose younger brother, Oyster (Nat Wolff), is one felony away from going to prison, which is exactly what happens when he accidentally kills a man in a bar fight. Even though it was in self-defense, Oyster is sentenced to 25 years.

Meanwhile, the others are deployed to Iraq, where they – and the viewer – briefly experience the visceral horrors of war. Jaeger loses a limb and Cal shoots an unarmed man during a heated stand-off. Shortly afterwards, they all return to civilian life. Cal tries to make amends with Oyster, who’s still in prison and won’t forgive his older brother for turning him in. Cal suspects Oyster is being abused in prison and will die there if he doesn’t do something. After filing an appeal fails, Cal decides to try and break Oyster out. When his honor-bound friends volunteer to help, he hatches a plan that will utilize their military training as well as his police experience.

"Oh, yeah? Well, double-dumbass on you!"
If that sounds like a variation of The Deer Hunter with a prison break tossed in, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark, though the war segment in this one isn’t nearly as relevant to the narrative and feel like it belongs in another movie. Nor are any of these characters interesting enough to make their camaraderie all that engaging. We’ve seen them all before in better movies. And right from the get-go, Oyster is such an obnoxious, narcissistic jackass that it’s extremely difficult to for the viewer to generate any sympathy for him. Sure, Cal’s driven by guilt and a sense of brotherly love, but if these guys are willing to risk throwing their own lives away, shouldn’t the viewer at-least like the guy they’re trying to save? After all, didn’t Christopher Walken’s character earn our sympathies?

So despite a decent cast, Semper Fi lacks the characters necessary for a compelling depiction of honor, loyalty and brotherhood. Elsewhere, it tries to be a family drama, war film and action movie, but is too erratically paced and episodic for any of these elements to be fully engaging, exacerbated by a major character (Oyster) who displays zero redeeming qualities.

FEATURETTES - “Loyalty and Brotherhood: Making Semper Fi” (interviews with the director and main cast); “A Battle of Honor”
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By writer/director Henry-Alex Rubin

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