Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
The word I'd heard about this high flying Korean aerial dog fighting epic 'R2B: Return to Base' was that it was aiming to be the Korean version of 'Top Gun'.  I mean you have hot F-15 fighter jets to work with, a popular handsome star in Rain, pop music in the background, beautiful people off to the side and I know full well that the Goose equivalent is gonna die.  I know this, I just gotta figure which one of the characters drew that short straw. But after watching 'R2B' it really wasn't Korean 'Top Gun' but probably closer in theme to being Korean 'Stealth'.  So considering we really didn't need an American version of 'Stealth'… take that as you will.

Capt. Tae-Hun (Rain) is a hotshot pilot for the Korean version of the Blue Angels and clearly this outfit has a crap process of picking pilots to be in their unit.  After performing some cockamamie stunt, putting his life, the planes life, and quite honestly the life of everybody at the air show at risk, Tae-Hun is booted out of the squad.  No worries because apparently the Korean air force needs reckless, dangerous, insubordinate pilots and now Tae-Hun has been reunited with his old friends Major Park (Sung-Su Kim) and Major Oh (Ha-Na Lee), while currying the ire of uptight Major Lee (Jun-Sang Yu) who hates hotshot, insubordinate and dangerous pilots.  We also get to meet young recruit Lt. Choi (Suk-Won Jung) who mentioned to us that he was an orphan is glad to have a family which does make him solid Goose material, but then Majors Oh and Lee seem to be falling in love with each other, helped by the fact Lee has an impossibly cute little boy which means either one of them could be dead meat as well.  There is also a pretty mechanic Se-Young who Tae-Hun is mercilessly stalking.  Stalking women into loving me has never worked personally, but it seems very effective in movies. 
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The first twenty five or so minutes of this bloated two hour movie is a lot of character type… stuff.  Buffoonery, endless dialog, nonsense.  You know.  Then when get a quick shot of a North Korean general putting a bullet in the head of some dude, and while this segment is brief, but at least we know they did this for a reason so we can hope that the character… stuff… can maybe subside and some fun stuff is going to happen.  The good news is that eventually the fun stuff is going to happen but that's a good hour down the line.  Until then we have more character… stuff… to suffer through. 

All of the characters in this movie has a melodramatic issue which has to be examined in full, which does make for kind of a lousy action movie.  The good thing about all of this melodrama is that we were finally, and correctly able to pick out Goose.  Or Jamie Foxx if we're going to stick with the 'Stealth' analogy.

Finally the action takes over when a crazed North Korean pilot crosses the line in his MIG and starts wrecking just about everything in South Korea.  Unfortunately our South Korean pilots haven't been given the order to fire because they're over populated areas.  Note that this isn't stopping our bad guy pilot from dropping missiles and stuff.  Now I'm no Minister of Defense or anything, but I'm thinking if we blow this guy out of the sky, the collateral damage that might result is acceptable as it stops the real damage that this is evil dude is currently causing.  Just my thoughts.  Finally the pilots have a shot, and they really want this dude dead because we've just experienced a Goose moment, but they can't take the shot because he's flown back over to the N. Korean side and we don't want a declaration of war.  Even though I think N. Korea already declared war when that guy came over dropping missiles on our buildings.  But again, what the hell do I know about the Rules of Engagement?

Now we have a situation.  One of our potential Goose candidates is trapped Behind Enemy Lines, the evil N. Korean general has loaded an ICBM that he's about launch on the U.S., and the U.S. is meddling and won't let our heroes go rescue the Behind the Enemy Lines guy.  Like hell you say.  Our heroes will get their man back and they will avenge Korean Goose.  Excitement, in theory, shall ensue.

There are times… okay… most of the time in 'R2B: Return to Base' where it is absolutely painful to watch.  The various melodrama's and relationship pursuits and buffoonery just weren't working for me on any level.  But it's not that I didn't want to see this melodramatic mess… well maybe I didn't… but even if I did want to see it, this part of the movie was so poorly setup and slapdashed together that it was hard to figure out who was what and what was who, and who loves who, so even if I did want to get into the melodrama, R2B's poor narrative construction wasn't helping me do this. 

That being said, the flight scenes and most of the special effects associated with these sequences were nicely realized.  I'm sure 90% of this was CGI but the things they can do with computers nowadays, I tell you.  The evil N. Korean angle was a little wacky, I mean you would think Kim Jong Un and them would be bad enough, but the set of bad guys they gave us are staging a coup to get rid of that regime.  That's pretty bad.  I guess the producers are placating the North Koreans in the unlikely event that R2B plays in Pyongyang.  Regardless of the wackiness, I would've much rather they played up the enemy and played down the melodrama as I'm sure it would've made for a much better movie.  We got nothing about the enemy other than we have to be safe in the knowledge that North Koreans are apparently crazy.

Basically, under the massive melodrama and inane dialog is a good action movie desperately trying  to get out from under 'R2B: Return to Base'.  It never got there, not even close, but we could see it bubbling underneath.  And that makes us sad.
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