USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage – Review (**)

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Disappointing. That’s one word to describe Nicolas Cage’s latest effort, an undeniably well-intentioned war movie that will dismay many who expect and perhaps hope it to be much worse than it actually is. Though it’s clear that a thin budget has been stretched to near-breaking point here, this earnest document of the titular vessel’s horrific sinking is nevertheless more of a corny throwback than the straight-up one-star calamity the creaky marketing suggests.

Captain Charles McVay (Cage) is tasked with a top-secret mission, to transport pieces of an atomic bomb that would later be dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Following this, on July 30th, 1945 in the Philippine Sea, the Indianapolis is bombed by a Japanese submarine, causing McVay and his men to abandon ship and attempt to survive the harsh, unforgiving ocean until they can be rescued.

USS Indianapolis bares more than a passing resemblance to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, or rather what that film might’ve looked like with 25% of the budget. Though the two-plus-hour movie features plenty of destruction, it’s similarly woefully awash in cornball sentiment, as the generic personal lives of the surviving men are spoonfed to the audience, acting largely as padding and little else.

Director Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City) may basically be a one-hit wonder, but to his credit he at least does make solid use of smooth tracking and crane shots to make Men of Courage occasionally feel like it cost the $40 million someone actually paid to fund it. Sadly, the wheels come off almost any moment a visual effect is on screen, with the budget for VFX presumably being blown on literally anything else, dampening the overall sense of spectacle and at times, with little exaggeration, resembling a game from the PS2 era.

Again, it’s frustrating as the scenes of destruction are fairly well put together if you can overlook the poor effects; even with some ropey dialogue, the performances help conjure the visceral aspect of the disaster, and Cage does solid work as the tragic protagonist whose story absolutely deserves to be told.

In the right hands, a McVay biopic probably could’ve been solid Oscar bait, so it’s a surprise this tale ended up in the bargain bin with a scant budget and overwhelming stank of cheapness. Even so, it’s not as bad as many feared or perhaps wanted, and also those out for their latest fix of insane Nic Cage acting are going to have to wait a little longer.

**

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