Bat*21 (1988)

Bat 21 Movie Poster

Sometimes you get a movie. Sometimes you don’t. I must admit I didn’t get Bat*21. I found it lame and somewhat uninspired despite the fact that it is based on a true story. Gene Hackman is a decent actor and so is Danny Glover but still… I had to look it up in my book on Vietnam movies to understand what the director had wanted with this movie. Apparently Bat*21 was meant as an answer to Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and other Vietnam infantry combat movies who focus on young soldiers and officers. The two main characters in Bat*21 are in their fifties. The movie wants to show that older soldiers are less gung-ho and that it might have been better if they had had their say instead of the young ones. In the movie, Hackman’s and Glover’s characters stand for maturity and taking calculated risks. They are aware of the fact that this war is senseless and should be ended.

Lt Col. Hambleton (Gene Hackman), a weapons countermeasures expert, is shot down over enemy territory. His knowledge is vital to some of the missions and the Air Force wants to do everything to get him back. As a first measure they send out reconnaissance pilot Cpt “Bird-Dog” Clark (Danny Glover) who has flown  far more missions than anyone can count. Without seeing each other they develop a relationship and Bird-Dog is seriously concerned for “Ham”. The territory he is in is hot. Enemies are swarming the place and the area should be carpet-bombed in a couple of days. If he can’t get out in time Ham will be killed one way or the other.

“Ham” is quite apt at hiding, he spends the night in the jungle and more than once an enemy patrol doesn’t see him because he is so well camouflaged. Thanks to a “code” referring to golf holes he can transmit his position to Bird-Dog who monitors him from above.

It’s not an awful movie and for those who love choppers and fighter planes, there is quite a lot to see. It did remind me of a lame version of Flight of the Intruder without the corny end. If you like stories based on true accounts you might still enjoy it. It was quite tricky to get out of that mess alive. Despite a lot of good intentions I can’t rate it any higher than 2.5/5. It certainly achieved to be the antithesis of Platoon, Hamburger Hill and Full Metal Jacket.

If you are looking for really great Vietnam movies see my post 10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See.

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2 thoughts on “Bat*21 (1988)

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    Excellent interpretation. I watched it recently and you nailed it. It is definitely a Vietnam War B movie. I found myself wondering what parts of the story were truly true. Much of it is hard to swallow. I will eventually review it and examine the accuracy. That should be interesting. One clue was at the end of the movie, they tell us what happened to Hambleton, but nothing about Clark. That is suspicious.

    This movie is not even in the top ten Vietnam war movie, but it means well and is entertaining.

    • Glad we agree. I was tempted to call it B-movie if it hadn’t been for the actors. I need to read the article in the book in more detail. He might say something about the accuracy. It is hard to imagine. Especially Bird-Dog’s part in it. Maybe that was stretched. Flight of the Intruder gets less rating points but I found it more entertaining than this although the end is shamefully corny.

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