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Film review: 'Jarhead' boring as war it depicts

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal

JARHEAD — ** — Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx; rated R (profanity, violence, vulgarity, sex, nudity, brief drugs, racial epithets).

It's a good 80 minutes or so into "Jarhead" before any wartime action occurs. That's supposed to reflect the real-life experiences of troops who served in the first Gulf War — in particular, the boredom and tedium between actual fighting. But instead, the film itself feels a little boring and tedious.

Of course, it doesn't help that this overly familiar war drama is so reminiscent of other, better movies, including "The Deer Hunter," "Full Metal Jacket," "Three Kings" and "Apocalypse Now." In fact, "Jarhead" even shows snippets from that last film, which may make you wish you were watching it instead.

Based on the best-selling memoirs of Tony Swofford, who served a two-year stint in the U.S. Marines, "Jarhead" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the reluctant recruit who shows an aptitude for marksmanship. However, he doesn't get much of an opportunity to show that off when he and his fellow Marines are finally sent to Saudi Arabia in 1989 as part of Operation Desert Shield (the subsequent battles in Kuwait during 1990 were known as Operation Desert Storm).

They're stuck in the middle of the Arabian Desert, waiting to see some action. So it's up to Staff Sgt. Sieks (Jamie Foxx) to keep them prepared at all times — and to find ways to keep the soldiers from going crazy. That's not easy, especially when some of the recruits find that their loved ones have betrayed them, including the increasingly unhinged Swofford.

Director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty," "Road to Perdition") does bring a certain sense of style to the film. But screenwriter William Broyles Jr.'s adaptation is very episodic, and again, the whole thing has a been-there, done-that feel to it (particularly the basic-training sequences, which were done much better in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket").

Still, the cast is solid. Gyllenhaal and co-star Peter Sarsgaard are believable as both soldiers and friends. And as their no-nonsense commanding officer, Foxx is full of the right amount of blustery swagger.

"Jarhead" is rated R for frequent use of strong profanity, strong scenes of war violence (including shootings and other gunplay, as well as some explosive mayhem), crude sexual references and other vulgar sexual humor, simulated sex and other sexual contact, flashes of male and female nudity, brief drug content (references to drug dealing), and use of a few racial epithets and ethnic slurs. Running time: 118 minutes.