181. The Patriot (1986)
Director: Frank Harris
Writers: Andy Ruben and Katt Shea
From: Cult Cinema
Terrorists steal two nuclear warheads and the only person that can stop them is dishonorably-discharged Naval Lieutenant Ryder.
A trio of masked men break into a nuclear storage facility—one where the security doesn’t have alarms on the gates and doesn’t hear a literal explosion happen at one of the buildings—and steals two nuclear warheads. They put one warhead into the oil outflow that leads to an offshore oil platform where it’s picked up by some SCUBA divers. Maggie, an employee at the platform, sees lights underwater and goes to investigate. While diving, she finds a piece of paper—the label from the warhead, I think—and contacts Ryder, an ex-Navy almost SEAL to ask him about it.
We’re introduced to Ryder at a honky-tonk bar where he sharks some guy at pool and then beats up the guy’s entire gang before taking his money. He briefly offers the money to a woman who helped him in the fight, then pockets it all and leaves her behind.
Getting that heroic vibe yet? Cause that’s our man!
He meets Maggie at a bar where she shows him the paper. He tells her not to go diving the next day, but she refuses and gets all huffy about it. The interaction is weird because he tells her it’s from a nuclear warhead and that something serious is going on. She contacted him for that very reason. Then she gets mad that he’s not interested in hooking up and is instead concerned about a rogue warhead. This shift doesn’t happen between scenes or over the course of the film, it’s within a single shot.
That confusion is the leitmotif of the movie. Ryder goes to the platform claiming to be part of a demolitions crew to remove an eyesore. The film’s characters are as confused as I was. Turns out the trio that stole the warheads are working on the platform. Maggie goes to dive and Ryder blows his cover trying to stop her. She goes anyway, a charge she’s holding goes off early, and Ryder dives into the ocean to save her—wearing a t-shirt and jeans which are apparently just as good as full SCUBA gear. When he brings her up, he’s getting hit with the bends, but puts her in a decompression chamber. While it’s running a tube comes loose and she dies raising the question of why the writers and director didn’t just have the explosion kill her.
Ryder goes drinking to get over it and is shanghaied by Naval officers to be taken before Admiral Leslie Nielsen. This is when we find out that Ryder had been in the Navy, almost became a SEAL, and was dishonorably discharged. We also learn that he was the best that bested at besting ever and was called “The Patriot,” a revelation that means nothing for the rest of the movie. Nielsen reveals that warheads have been stolen, it’s being kept a secret, and he’ll reinstate Ryder if he can find them. His CO will be Mitchell. This is forty minutes in, by the way. In an 85 minute movie.
So Ryder meets Nielsen for dinner and Nielsen’s niece is there. She and Ryder have a history that they angrily hash out by shouting exposition on the boardwalk that, and I am not making this up, is suddenly about Vietnam and all the good men we lost over there. Then they fuck. While someone smoking a cigarette watches from the bushes.
Okay, just… just give me a second here. Whoooo.
Oh my gosh, this is the most awkward sex scene I’ve seen since Hard Ticket to Hawaii, and I’ve seen The Room. The final shot literally holds on the two of them cradling each other with looks on their faces that say, “Are you going to call ‘cut’? You can say ‘cut.’ Just… just say ‘cut.’” And then Ryder starts talking about Vietnam again.
Wait, wait, the scene’s not done yet. Cause remember when I said his CO will be Mitchell? Guess who was waiting in the bushes. Yup, Mitchell who is, I think, the niece’s boyfriend. Maybe her husband? Or just crushing on her? Clarify your relationships, movie! But he’s both very angry and totally cool with her hooking up with Ryder and tells her that he himself masterminded stealing the warheads and has set one to detonate. His logic is if both sides have one, no one will be willing to use it. Although it’s not clear who the sides are or how that justifies him arming one or why it’s…
I GIF’d. This movie made me GIF. I don’t think I’ve GIF’d before on the Misery Mill. That’s how far this movie has pushed me. I can’t even use words anymore. I just…
Right, right, movie. So Ryder, niece, and helicopter pilot arm up and invade the platform, big shootout, go diving, harpoon gun fight between people all dressed in SCUBA gear so good luck guessing who’s who, and all the baddies are killed. Including Mitchell who was the only one that can disarm the nuke. Ryder opens it up with one minute left on the detonator. He doesn’t know which wire to cut. He picks one, cuts it as the timer reaches one, and the movie freezes on his face and solarizes.
Cut to a county road in the middle of nowhere and the girl from the honky-tonk at the beginning is hitchhiking in jerky slow motion. Ryder rolls up on his bike, picks her up, and they ride off into the distance as a song fades over the credits. THE END. And then the song fades back up as the credits continue.
This movie is awful, truly awful. I’ve only described the incomprehensible garbage plot. There’s also bad acting, a lead with a combover that’s barely trying at the best of times and actively failing at others, and terrible editing. The editor repeatedly takes two scenes that should run in sequence and intercut them with each other. So rather than have scene A play out followed by scene B, you get shot from scene A, shot from scene B, shot from scene A, and on and on. It’s to imply that both scenes are happening at the same time, but it only makes things confusing because there’s no narrative value to knowing that these two things are happening contemporaneously. Also, they’re not happening contemporaneously.
For example, the scene with Mitchell confronts the niece immediately after Ryder leaves is intercut with Ryder sneaking into the building where the second warhead is stored. These aren’t happening at the same time. Ryder isn’t immediately at the second location. So the effect is to make the viewer think, “Oh, that was a short scene, oh, I guess that one’s done too. Wait, is this still going on?” It extends the sense of time when watching the movie making it that much more interminable.
I think it’s clear what I’m going to say, right?
You have to see this movie. You have to. It is awful, but this is the first “seeing is believing” level of awful I’ve run into during the Misery Mill. There have been bad movies, there have been surprise good movies, and there have been so-bad-they’re-good movies, but this is the first one that I am literally asking you to watch to confirm that I haven’t lost my mind. Did I really see what I think I saw? I am downright giddy writing this up, that’s how excited and gob-smacked I am about this movie. Please, please, please find yourself a copy of The Patriot and watch it. Don’t make me have done this alone. It is definitely worth digging up to watch with friends and just shout at incredulously. I haven’t done it justice because so much of it defies description. Please, please, please go find and watch this movie.