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Little Marines

BY ZACH CARTER

I forced my Mother to rent Little Marines an obscene number of times from Video Depot, our video store of choice when I was a kid.  I loved it.  Watching it now though I have no idea what about the movie appealed to me when I was a kid.  It's low budget keeps it from ever becoming the sort of action spectacle that the filmmakers probably wanted it to be.  You could never mistake it for something like The Goonies, another of my childhood favorites.  The most exciting action set piece is a chase scene between bikes (some BMX and one dirt bike that's only going as fast as a BMX to maintain the illusion that there is a believable chase going on) all set on an unattractive mound of dirt in the woods.  And the characters talk way too much about their feelings to keep the average kid entertained.  What I was drawn to as a child in this movie is beyond my adult comprehension, but the cynical grown up in me loved every second of this bizarre, southern-fried piece of cinematic gold.

The movie opens by introducing us to Stevie, the token fat kid, as his teacher spanks him in front of the schoolhouse.  And when I say spank I mean paddle with a large oar.  After his corporal punishment she tells Stevie to "have a good Summer."  I'm assuming the filmmaker's intended there to be a lesson in there somewhere; the teacher isn't a bad person, she just knows that sometimes the only way to get your point across to a child is to hit them in front of their peers, or something like that.  You'll learn valuable life-lessons like that throughout Little Marines.  We're quickly introduced to the other two annoying pubescent boys who make up the bulk of the cast; Noah, the sensitive one, and Chris, the tough guy who hangs out with geeks to make himself seem cooler.  They also have a friend named David, but it's best to ignore him because his Mom is a bitch and she won't let him go on the coolest camping trip ever.  The boys (the Little Marines if you will) have had it planned for months, an awesome weekend camping trip to kick of their Summer vacation in style.

Pretty quickly after the opening credits it becomes apparent that the main reason this movie exists is to instill good morals into unsuspecting children.  The Little Marines themselves have impeccable morals.  When a totally ridiculous drug dealer offers the boys free joints from the window of his red Corvette they rebuff him without even considering their options.  "No way man, we don't need drugs to have a good time."  When Stevie crashes another kid's model airplane, instead of riding away on his bike or making Chris help him beat the kid up, Stevie actually pays for the damages.  After setting up their teepee, the Little Marines even erect a flag pole and stand at salute while the national anthem plays on their tape deck; the patriotism is actually enough to bring a tear to Stevie's eye.  It's easy to see why this movie won the American Family Alliance Award of Excellence in 1991.  The Little Marines bicker like any good friends, but when push comes to shove they're always there for each other.  Like when local bully and dirt bike aficionado Snake corners Stevie and pelts him with paintballs (causing him to curl into the fetal position and cry), Noah and Chris are there to lure Snake away and save Stevie any further embarrassment.  Or when Noah has a hard time dealing with the recent death of another of their close friends, Chris and Stevie take the time to listen to him and help him remember the good times that they shared.  Lucky for us though, all the sentimentality that the American Family Alliance found so sincere and heartwarming, we can now mock openly.

Even with all of the aforementioned excellence, my favorite scene in the movie is the one where the boys happen upon a mysterious, machete-wielding man in the woods near their campsite.  They approach him with extreme caution but that doesn't stop Stevie from being caught in one of the man's many booby traps.  Chris and Noah watch in horror as the man approaches Stevie with his machete, thinking that Stevie may spend the last moments of his life hanging upside down from a tree.  Little Marines could have taken an amazing turn at that point and become the best children's movie of all time.  But unfortunately it didn't, that man's just a friendly camper who tells the boys a sob story about a drunk driver killing his wife and child.  Noah opens up to the man and tells him that his Father was killed in Vietnam before he was even born; I did a little math and can't really wrap my head around how that's actually possible.  A more likely scenario is that Noah's Mother has lied to him all these years and doesn't actually know who his real Father is.   

In the big finale (which is totally anticlimactic) Stevie and Noah finally get their moment to shine when they save Chris from drowning after a diving accident.  They drag him to the shore and revive him with the sorriest excuse for CPR that I've ever witnessed (which is to say they laid Chris face down in shallow water and then a fat kid sat on his back).  Then the movie ends abruptly with a freeze frame of a triumphant Stevie raising his fist into the air, which only made me wish that I was watching The Breakfast Club instead.  Little Marines is probably only amazing if you have fond memories of it from childhood, but I can't do anything but recommend it.


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