Why Do I Love Army Movies?

I just caught the second half of Guy X on one of our crappy movie channels. I don’t know that it got much of a theatrical release in Canada, though I do remember seeing a poster for it in a cinema in Dublin in 2005. It has no entry in Wikipedia, no reviews on Metacritic, and only a smattering on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s a black comedy set in 1979, about a soldier mistakenly posted to a military base in Greenland. Jason Biggs, Jeremy Northam and the lovely Natascha McElhone (who really seems to struggle to disguise her accent) star.

I don’t think it’s a very good movie. The Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor puts it well, calling it “a jack of all formulas and master of none.”

One of those formulae is the subversive army movie, in which the enlisted men are smarter and funnier than any of the officers, and get up to no good. Hilarity usually ensues. I’m not really talking about war movies here–these are generally peacetime films set in existentialist army bases.

For some reason, I love these movies. I was first introduced to the genre through Stripes, which features excellent comedic work by Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. Another early influence was MASH, which I still love. More recent examples include Buffalo Soldiers and Jarhead.

What do I like about them? There’s always a kind of absurdest angle, and I suppose the general anti-war vibe. Maybe it’s just the tightly controlled setting of the base which makes for high drama and wacky set pieces.

Do you have a favourite under-appreciated genre?


  1. I knew I’d get called on “Jarhead”, but I don’t think you could really, accurately, call it a war movie. It has a near complete absence of war in it.

  2. I don’t think they’re underappreciated, but I love road trip movies and teen movies.

  3. It seems like the enlisted men are always smarter than the officers.
    I’m thinking – Blackadder goes Forth (WWI in the trenches).
    And even 24…the bosses are always getting in Jack’s way by sticking to the rules.

  4. What about the “teacher/mentor/usually white person takes a group of poor/unintelligent/street kids and makes them believe in themselves” genre? I would have thought ‘Dangerous Minds’ was enough but since then they’ve cranked out a bunch more…each time it’s another sport/activity. Most recently there’s one set with a swim team.

  5. So, what’s the absurdest of the absurdist angles in these movies?

    That’s right, I check your spelling so you don’t have to. No, I have not examined what makes me make these posts. It’s surely nothing decent.

    My favourite underrated (well, guilty pleasure) genre is hitman comedies. “The Big Hit”, “Grosse Pointe Blank”, “Pulp Fiction”, you name it.

  6. Hey, wait…Blackadder?

    The smartest character is Captain Blackadder, and the dumbest is certainly Pvt Baldrick.

    That said, most of the other officers (notably Gen Melchett and Lt George) are depicted as fat-headed.

    But the trenches-versus-HQ divide does remain.

    One could write angry duelling essays over what kind of movie Starship Troopers is, and I’m sure many people have.

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