Following the disastrous performance of CJ’s high profile releases last year, such as Sector 7 and My Way, the assumption was that the company was going to rethink it’s approach to blockbusters by focussing more on mid-level projects. Perhaps this is the case but I suppose R2B: Return to Base was already in production at this stage so they just grit their teeth and got on with it. It certainly feels that way as this new late summer action film feels like it was thrown together. What was initially a remake of the classic Shin Sang-ok feature Red Muffler (1964) starring Rain, the king of K-pop, wound up as a half-assed attempt at emulating an enormously popular and kitschy 80s American classic.
Earlier this week we were all shocked to hear of Tony Scott’s suicide, one of Hollywood’s most dependable directors. He made many great action films over the last 20 years but he will most likely be remembered for Top Gun (1986), the film, which among other things, made Tom Cruise a superstar. Rain may have been voted Time’s Most Influential Person of the Year three years running by his adoring fans, but his screen presence pales in comparison. Love him or hate him (I consider myself among the former) there’s no denying Cruise’s charm. This is what made Top Gun such a hit and is part of the reason why R2B is D.O.A.
Previously known as Soar Into the Sun in English, R2B was originally slated for a late 2012 release. It’s not often that films are pushed forward, especially after a $10 million investment, and certainly not to a spot in the dwindling summer doldrums. The marketing has not been particularly effective and consequently the buzz surrounding this purportedly major release was non-existent on opening day. It’s almost as though CJ was cutting their losses, mitigating the damage of an anticipated write-off.
The story is as basic (and hackneyed) as they come. A hotshot pilot (Rain) gets booted out of his elite squadron after pulling off a dangerous stunt during an air show. His cocksure demeanor doesn’t sit well with his new unit, especially with the stoic, stone-faced ace (Yoo Joon-sang) who has never been beaten. Throw in a beautiful but tough mechanic (Sin Se-kyeong), an inter-pilot competition and an eventual external antagonist in the shape of some North Korean rogues in the midst of a coup and you can pretty much work out the rest of the story.
For the most part the cast is listless and save the always-welcome presence of Oh Dal-su, they seem to be phoning it in. From a technical standpoint the film does just fine, glossy and full of warm sunsets but aside from the obvious Top Gun influences, the best shots look like they came out a music video. Though strangely, after having seen the film, I’m left with the impressions that it was composed of various shades of grey. Perhaps this is a reflection of the banality of the film’s narrative and characters. The story never really gets going and most of the supporting cast members seem to be present merely to put a cog of the soporific story into motion.
R2B is mostly harmless as it goes through the motions but it’s a little difficult to identify the film’s raison d’être. A couple of action scenes almost breathe a little life into it but the fall just short. They are competently staged but don’t offer anything new to the genre and become a little repetitive, a common grievance for aerial combat scenes in films. The North Korean antagonists are very poorly drawn and their screen time is far too limited to convey any real sense of menace. What irked me most about the film was the small world it carved out for itself. Besides dull, grey skies, and equally dreary warehouses, scarcely any locations are explored. Some films can get away with this but not summer blockbusters!
Inoffensive and competent though it may be, R2B: Return to Base simply isn’t worth the price of admission. It doesn’t seem like the filmmakers were greatly concerned with their audience and I imagine that spectators will respond in kind by avoiding it.
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