‘Land of Bad’ movie review: Russell Crowe has a blast in this mostly-engaging actioner

Hollywood is no stranger to the war film genre, frequently dominating the scene with their depiction of military conflicts, each new movie challenging the previous with technological and narrative prowess. A recent exhibit of this cinema excellence comes with “Land of Bad,” which skillfully displays how the combined forces of human intellect and technological might revolutionize contemporary warfare.

“Land of Bad” constructs a narrative around a theme familiar to its genre: the high-stakes world where valiant soldiers find themselves with lives hanging in the balance, and the undoubted certainty that audiences will witness a surplus of gunfire and pyrotechnics. Director William Eubank presents a story of two digitally interconnected men, fighting a daunting battle – each in their domain of expertise. Sergeant JJ “Playboy” Kinney (portrayed by Liam Hemsworth), stationed in the Philippines amidst battle-hardened allies, and Captain Eddie “Reaper” Grimm (a standout Russell Crowe), piloting a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone from a Las Vegas base. This drone, with precision-guided firepower, also serves as a critical surveillance asset. When Kinney’s operation is compromised, it’s up to the less experienced soldier and his expert pilot counterpart to rally and save the day.

Over two days, a bond formed between JJ and Eddie becomes the movie’s compass, a relationship akin to that of a buddy cop dynamics despite the characters never sharing screen space. JJ is portrayed as a newcomer striving to earn his stripes among seasoned comrades, while Eddie is the veteran who can even shake his higher-ups with his experience. The action sequences deliver an exhilarating rush, and the film reaches peak engagement with these daring feats. Elsewhere, it’s the rapport and the humor between JJ, coming to terms with his combat solitude, and Eddie, a man with a large family and a vegan fourth wife, injecting light moments that lend depth to their characters.

Liam Hemsworth does justice to his role as the earnest but untested sergeant. The supporting cast, including his real-life brother Luke Hemsworth, competently portrays a troop of soldiers in his command. Yet, it is the seasoned Crowe who indeed captures the spotlight. In the twilight of his career, Crowe seems to relish his character portrayals in genre films, like “Poker Face” and “The Pope’s Exorcist” – and “Land of Bad” is no exception. Fans may recall his “Gladiator” days as they watch his performance and feel as if they can hear the echo of Maximus asking, “Are you not entertained?”

However, the film, much like a missile high in the sky, can only stay aloft for so long. Its narrative falters with stereotypical antagonists and repetitive sequences, especially when JJ is captured not once, but twice. The action tends to stagnate, and subsequent torture scenes add little to the overall plot when the outcome is fairly predictable.

In essence, “Land of Bad” succeeds with a straightforward storyline, buoyed by strong leading performances, and only when delving into complexity does it stumble. Nevertheless, it stands as a decent entry into the war movie canon and is sure to appeal to enthusiasts of unadulterated action spectacle.

Currently showing in theaters across the globe, “Land of Bad” may not redefine war cinema but certainly provides an entertaining theater experience for those looking for action-infused escapism on the big screen.

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