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Windtalkers

Starring Nicolas Cage; Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Roger Willie, Frances O'Connor, Martin Hendersonn and Christian Slater
Screenplay by John Rice & Joe Batteer
Directed by John Woo
website: www.mgm.com/windtalkers

IN SHORT: Sorry folks, an average war flick. [Rated . minutes]

Director John Woo is known for making explosive action movies. His latest, the WWII based Windtalkers is long on explosions and, unfortunately, less than compelling in its attempt to build a story out of the friendship of soldiers under enemy fire. We wish it weren't so, but it is.

The problem with the film is, to get straight to the heart of the matter, is the performance Woo orders up from star Nicolas Cage. To be honest, there isn't a better actor we could think of to play a shell shocked WWII warrior. Cage has that generic shellshocked monotonous tone built into almost (though there are a couple of exceptios) every screen character he creates. We know this is a choice made as an actor, since we're writing this review about three hours after screening Windtalkers and Cage is appearing on Letterman as we type. He is bursting with personality on the small screen.

On the big screen, when we first meet Corporal Joe Enders (Cage) he is in the midst of a fierce battle on the Soloman Islands, Pacific Theater of Operations circa 1943. His commanding officer is dead, leaving Joe the senior man in the chain of command. The fighting is brutal. The troops beg Joe to order a retreat but he is a man who follows orders. The standing orders are to hold this particular piece of ground and that's what he orders his men to do. We'll pass by what happens to his men and focus on Joe, who is felled by a grenade attack. Wth severe damage to is inner ear, the man is not fit to return to battle but, with the aide of smitten nurse Rita (Frances O'Connor) Joe is returned to battle, as part of a top secret operation to confound the Japanese codebreakers.

It was one of the great secrets of WWII and our success in that Theater. Japanese codebreakers, and ours presumably, knew all the modern "civilized" languages that could be used to form code. What the Japanese didn't know was that we were using a code based on the native language of the Navajo tribe of Native Americans. No one outside the tribe knows the language. Enders is assigned to protect the Navajo private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) as their unit does advance scouting on the island of Saipan. 30,000 Japanese troops are on Saipan. The battle would be one of the bloodest of the war with our side having the advantae of information raqdioed back in unbrakable code. By the time of the Saipan battle, the Japanese have figured out the Navajo have something to do with the code and their orders are to take any "found" natives alive and then torture 'em until they give up the codee. The first Native found wasn't a code talker. The Marines make it clear to Enders that his primary mission is to protect the code-- not the Marine, the code. Think about that for a second for the order is given in its own form of code. Enders is chosen for the job because he always follows orders.

If you've gotten the drift you should be sitting in your seat with an ever growing sense of dread and fear. The tension should build as the battles do. But they don't

As expected with war movies, we get a broad range of soldiers to identify and bond with: Ox Anderson (Christian Slater) and Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie), Squad Leader Gunnery Seargent Hjelmstad (Peter Stormare), rednick racist Chick (Noah Emmerich), Greek American Pappas (Mark Ruffalo) who carries a paper bag to breathe into since he hyperventilates when excited, a Floridian surfer dude (Brian Van Holt), and Nellie (Martin Henderson) the rookie who is so scared of death he arranges for his wedding ring to be returned to his wife -- even before he sees battle. Excepting the battle scenes, which are as brutal as they are beautifully staged, all interaction between members of this squad is pretty much the same kind of stuff you've seen in almost every war movie ever made. Everyone follows the generic stereotype template. Everyone has great dreams for what they're going to do, and how they're going to make their millions, after the war. All live for mail call, except Enders, who refuses to take possession or even open and read the mail that Rita sends to him, seemingly on a daily basis.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Windtalkers, he would have paid . . .

$4.00

Windtalkers is a great real idea hampered by the fictional story which is laid on top. Nothing so memorale that it's going to ring bells at the end of the year but nothing so awful that you couldn't take a date.

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