Drones Review

Posted: June 29, 2014 in Action, Drama, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

2fd06dc1755d9f958747442fa58cec57The poster art for Drones features a 21st-century soldier deep in The Suck, a M16 rifle with grenade launcher at the ready and a Batman utility belt strapped around his mid-section. A female soldier with a daintier weapon and a few packs less ammo follows him. The sky is filled with unmanned aerial vehicles and tracer fire. “THE WAR OF THE FUTURE IS UP IN THE AIR,” we’re told.


Anyone purchasing a cinema ticket, DVD, or on-demand rental based on that nonsensical graphic, which is nothing more than video game cover art, should be entitled to a full refund plus compensation. There are no combat soldiers in Drones, no grenade launchers, no tracer fire. The Suck is thousands of miles away, seen only on video monitors in trailers on a Nevada air force base where two-person teams operate unmanned aircraft that patrol over the skies of Afghanistan and Pakistan, targeting terrorists. Drones is an 80-minute version of the opening scene from War Games (1983), in which two Air Force personnel responsible for the nuclear missiles at one site are given a launch order. One soldier blanches; the other threatens him with a gun to continue. (And wasn’t it great to have Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow make a throwback reference to that film in Captain America: The Winter Soldier?)

Here, a high-value target may or may not be coming into range of some Hellfire missiles. The General’s daughter, Lieutenant Sue Lawson (Eloise Mumford), a flight school candidate reduced to joystick jockey because of a detached retina, seems to think so. The drone pilot, Airman Jack Bowles (Matt O’Leary), who is running the show because it’s Lawson’s first day, would rather be playing a video game. The tension between the two as the situation escalates, fanned by orders from higher-ups, serves as the dramatic basis for the film.

Much of what follows is predictable, albeit engaging. The premise is familiar, but effective. Unfortunately, the male-female dynamic is handled obviously and poorly by director Rick Rosenthal and screenwriter Matt Witten. The girl is emotional; the boy is unfeeling. Granted, there is greater nuance as the story unfolds, but that is the starting point. Why not turn this on its head? Why not have the woman as the hard-ass true believer who’s ready to follow orders, and the man as the one paralyzed by the moral ambiguity of the situation?

Mumford and O’Leary have a nice screen chemistry, and the shifting dynamic of their relationship over the course of the film remains credible. O’Leary fares slightly better in his impersonation of a soldier, but he is less burdened with an unnecessary backstory than Mumford is. The rest of the cast is seen almost exclusively via black-and-white video link-ups, including Colonel Wallace (Whip Hubley) and General Lawson (William Russ). Jeez, you’d think the Pentagon’s budget would cover color monitors.

The biggest problem with Drones is that the stakes are too small. In War Games, Fail-Safe, and Deterrence, nuclear weapons are on the table, and the consequences are potentially apocalyptic. The scenario in this case is more plausible and therefore less terrifying. While ruinous on a personal level for those soldiers in the trailer with the broken air conditioner, the wrong choice here is one most viewers will likely believe has already been made over and over again.

Two and a half stars.

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