9/03/2009

DVD Review: Boot Camp (2007)



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If you thought that Catholic school nuns with rulers were vicious, wait until you get a load of the torturous discipline served up in director Christian Duguay's Boot Camp.

Perhaps hoping to cash in on the coveted hotness of its beautiful Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Extract star Mila Kunis who's adored by men both for her looks and voice-work on TV's popular Family Guy, this straight-to-disc MGM release proudly dangles the description of "Unrated" as a sultry carrot only to beat you senseless with the stick utilized shortly after the movie begins.



Much like pet-owners who want their dogs to be trained without doing any of it themselves, the brainwashing Pavlovian individuals who run the ironically named Camp Serenity liken the at-risk kids to dogs after they're granted legal control of the teens whose lives have been signed away by parents who have given up trying to raise the individuals they brought into the world.



Yet before you judge, you must admit that sometimes when you see out-of-control teens on talk shows or even in your everyday life, the most immediate response to their immature and dangerous behavior may in fact be, "man, they should go to boot camp."

However, in this film which is based on true events, we're informed as the work opens and closes that there's currently more than 200 of these "tough love" facilities around the world which have housed hundreds of thousands of kids since the 1970s with either very little or no governmental regulation or involvement.

Moreover, with some camps located in areas of the world where young adults have far less rights than they do even on our soil where reports of deaths, rapes, and inhumane treatment at these facilities is not all that uncommon, you start wondering just what kind of world we live in where the government and parents haven't banded together to fight for the human rights of the children that others have essentially thrown away.

While Duguay's thesis and belief about these camps is as clear as mine is right from the start and the film defies logic frequently to keep pushing his agenda, the stark brutality depicted throughout makes it quite difficult to sit through. Shortly into the film, a handful of kids are pulled from whatever situation they're in whether in their room studying or at a party, some drugged, all restrained with flex cuffs with parental consent before they arrive on an island in Fiji.

While there are no walls in their new prison, it's the opposite of a tropical paradise as all teens are given ankle tracking devices that go off if they venture too far and upon arrival, they're chained to stones at the edge of the ocean all night as the tide violently tries to pull them away under the sea. Deprived of sleep and food, the brainwashing begins and while a few are hesitant to say the least, the most willful new arrival is Mila Kunis' Sophie.

Just before being bound and drugged by the security men of Camp Serenity, she'd asked her loyal boyfriend Ben (Gregory Smith) to escape to a different state to marry her so that she could put an end to her miserable existence living with her bullying stepfather and doormat mother. Still reeling since the death of her father, the obviously smart Sophie seems to be a prime example of a teen acting out for attention. Yet soon she even begins losing hope in the middle of nowhere where teens move from different color shirts and meal rations signifying their progress in the brainwashing system created by Dr. Hail (Peter Stormare) that encourages the teens to discipline and beat each other into submission and forced confessions as to why they are there.



While Hail and the sexually abusive manipulator Logan (Tygh Runyan) are the film's real enemies, Boot Camp takes its creepiness to the next level. Since the inmates are forced to take over the asylum and exact revenge or their own form of justice on one another, it's fairly easy to see that Hail has designed Serenity in a way where-- even if the kids don't believe in his ASAP system which stands for Advanced Serenity Achievement Program-- by breaking them down and making them submissive all they have to do is play the game to get through.

Essentially a less effective version of Rescue Dawn, The Shawshank Redemption and any number of World War II movies given a modern teenage update, it's a no-brainer that even with Kunis, Boot Camp would never have been screened in theatres since the last place teens would want to go aside from boot camp is to a film about boot camp.



While a few of the plot twists are fairly easy to predict and overall, Duguay didn't exploit the sex abuse angle too much (despite one harrowing scene that should've been cut since we didn't need extraneous graphic assaults) and we're pretty sure we know precisely how it will end, there's one major gap in logic that turns the nightmarish docudrama into a by-the-numbers escape movie.

Unable to give up on his kidnapped girlfriend, Sophie's boyfriend Ben concocts an extremely dubious plan to get himself sent to the exact same camp to try to rescue her (which of course, only leads to more problems) but by utilizing this improbable angle, we're pulled out of the slave-like hell of Serenity into extreme disbelief.

Questions start overflowing like if Ben was tight with Sophie's mom, wouldn't Ben's parents know where Sophie was too or know Sophie's mom? As far as we can tell it's Ben's "first strike" so why would his parents resort to such an extreme measure and why would it be this same place instead of a closer treatment based or intervention organization or facility?



Unable to suspend our disbelief that much to buy into that particular plot point, at least the arrival of Ben offers some small relief both to Sophie and to viewers who've felt like they've been experiencing this agonizing hell as well. Of course, even before the inevitable conclusion rolls around, we've already realized what's most likely going to happen and were wondering why such an undertaking hadn't been attempted before.

And while Duguay's film is manipulative and flawed, it's nonetheless an unflinching and important look at a subject matter that most of us would probably avoid reading about or learning more about at all costs. However, when it comes to our kids, we can only remain ignorant at our peril. And although I question just how much the film is actually based on fact (and the DVD screener had zero extra features plus an overly grainy look that I hope isn't on the disc being sold), I am glad I stuck it out since it's vital to confront issues no matter how unpleasant just so that we can begin to question the facts before we make such a horrific decision about the next generation.



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