PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Would that the writing was on The Wall.
But it’s the writing or lack thereof that sinks this emaciated military drama.
And, no, despite what sounds like a timely title, The Wall has nothing whatsoever to do with national borders, Mexico, or campaign promises.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena play American Sergeants Isaac and Matthews, respectively, the former a spotter for the latter.
They are snipers on a counter-sniper mission in the Iraq War in 2007 after the contractors who were constructing a nearby pipeline have been killed.
Now they are pinned down in a desert wasteland by an Iraqi sniper, protected only by the crumbling titular barrier that separates them.
When Matthews tries to surreptitiously collect the radios of the deceased security guards, he is wounded by the enemy sniper.
And when Isaac attempts to come to his rescue, he is himself wounded. In addition, his radio is damaged and his all-important water bottle is destroyed.
Then, as Isaac crawls behind the dilapidated wall to tend to his wounds and remove the lead from his leg, the Iraqi sharpshooter manages to get on the local radio frequency and begins to taunt him.
Isaac does eventually get his radio to work, and reports on his location and situation.
But he cannot determine whether Matthews is dead or alive, and he quickly comes to believe that he has been lured into a trap.
He is eternally grateful when he hears the sounds of an approaching rescue team of American helicopters, but then wonders if they’ve been lured into a trap as well.
Director Doug Liman, usually working on a larger scale (Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, ,Jumper Edge of Tomorrow), perhaps operating in an experimental mode, tries to make do with Dwain Worrell’s screenplay. But the script is so thin, so one-dimensional, so repetitive, it’s a trying viewing experience, even at 81 minutes, much more monotonous than compelling despite the life-or-death stakes.
There is mild suspense early on, and the film seems to operate in real time. But there is nothing more than a glorified incident where the plot ought to be.
The film that comes to mind as you watch – and there is plenty of down time during which you can indulge such thoughts and make such judgments – Is American Sniper, with Bradley Cooper. But any comparisons in this regard do The Wall no favors.
Taylor-Johnson does what he can in the lead role, although it is so severely underwritten that it’s mostly an exercise in futility. As for Cena, he hardly gets a chance to register. Actually, Taylor-Johnson gets too much screen time and Cena not enough.
So we’ll pin down 2 stars out of 4 for a war flick that barely qualifies as a feature film, one in which little of value is gained by being a fly on The Wall.