Before the opening titles were over, I knew I adored this movie. Not only do we get a title credit, but the film’s star, WWE champion John Cena, appears next to the words “The Marine” and salutes the audience. At ease, soldier, you’ve already won me over.
Whereas the campy/awful “No Holds Barred” and the trying too hard “The Scorpion King” failed Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the first starring vehicle for Cena is a winner from start to finish. I don’t mean to imply it’s good. Heavens no. “The Marine” is, scene for scene, a sublime example of so-bad-its-great cinema, an accidental howler that is wretchedly written but made and performed with skillful conviction. Few action movies, let alone those produced by Vince McMahon, are this entertaining on purpose.
We know Robert Patrick’s character is bad and it’s not because he robs a jewelry store in his establishing scene. What happens immediately after clinches the deal: Patrick struts in slow motion to the back of his car, grabs a machine gun and blows up an approaching police car. Not only does Patrick not flinch when it explodes, he casually pivots and turns around as a massive CGI fireball nearly engulfs him but doesn’t. I didn’t mention that Patrick is dressed in a suit and tie (no disguise necessary?) and that the moment is scored to Rob Zombie’s “More Human Than Human.” It plays even funnier than it reads.
Not long after, Cena (his character’s name is John Triton but really, he might as well have been named “John Cena”) survives the first of many gigantic explosions by covering his eyes while a fireball propels him across a gas station engulfed in flames. After that, he’s in a car chase where the bad guys are spraying his vehicle with bullets and Cena, God bless him, holds up a bullet proof vest so he can drive and absorb bullets at the same time. Later, he jumps out of the same car, as it flies through the air and is, you guessed it, exploding from machine gun fire. It all happens in slow motion. This all occurs before the movie has really gotten started.
It plays like a low budget Michael Bay movie, with a camera that loves to swoop alongside the actors in slow motion and many explosions (real and otherwise) the size of a tsunami. “The Marine” is an unintentional dig at excessive, brain numbing ‘splosion fests, as well as choice example of how to do this kind of movie the right way. Sometimes it seems like everyone involved is in on the joke, though not always. The few intentional laughs are nothing compared to the giant laughs this conjures up by playing it straight.
Cena is hilarious. His massive frame and no-nonsense performance It’s like watching a lumberjack play one of the Von Trapp children. I don’t even intend to sound cynical, I love his performance in this. He inflicts violence wherever he goes, even during his nine to five job in as a suit and tie security guard. A wrong word by some pushy jackass inspires Cena to throw the man through a plate glass window. Ah, that Cena,
Cena’s wife appears to always be sitting around the house and, like a dutiful schnauzer, is always just waiting for him to come home. “The Marine” has much to say about the U.S. Marine Corps as “The Wizard of Oz” does about farming.
There’s also the scene where one of the villains shares his dreadful summer camp story with his cohorts; the bit is meant to be funny and isn’t but goes on so long and is so awkwardly handled, it becomes funny for how hard the filmmakers are trying to make the moment funny. I also love the moment where Patrick, who appears to be having a ball, references his “T2” role.
I haven’t mentioned the too-quick editing in the opening scene, in which it appears that Cena gives a dirty look so severe, it causes a terrorist to burst into flames. I’ve re-watched this moment several times and can tell you that, no, Cena is not playing a “Firestarter”-like telepathic, it’s just the over-caffeinated way the scene is put together. Yet, come to think of it, Cena having psychic abilities would somehow explain the movie better. It would make as much sense as anything else in “The Marine.”