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SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981) *** ½

Peter Coyote leads a bunch of half-assed National Guardsmen on training maneuvers in the Louisiana bayou.  When the Guardsmen steal some Cajun locals’ canoes, the irate hillbillies exact vengeance by picking off the inept soldiers one by one.  Eventually, only Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe are left standing to fend off the kill-crazy Cajuns.

 

You know since this movie features a group of American soldiers fighting an enemy on their own turf and getting their asses kicked, you could say it’s a Vietnam allegory.  Sure, the metaphor is there for those who want that sort of thing.  For me though, Southern Comfort is just a straightforward and enormously entertaining action flick.

 

Southern Comfort was directed by Walter Hill and it’s another damned fine entry in his oeuvre.  Hill had previously explored the whole Group-of-Heroes-Getting-Lost-and-Fighting-for-Their-Lives thing before in the superior The Warriors, but he tweaks the formula in enough ways to make it seem fresh.  He films the attack scenes with panache and gives us one particularly squirm-inducing knife to the nuts scene.

 

Another reason this film kicks ass is that it has two of my favorite character actors, Powers Boothe and Fred Ward acting macho as Hell.  Just seeing those two go toe to toe with one another was worth the price of admission.  I also dug Keith Carradine’s understated work, even though I have to wonder how he kept his hair looking so perfect in the middle of the bayou.

 

Although Southern Comfort is a sure fire crowd-pleaser, it isn’t quite perfect.  Hill gives us perhaps one too many lulls in the action which prevents the movie from being truly electrifying.  Had the film been paced a bit tighter, it could’ve been a real classic.  Whatever lapses there are, there is no denying that when the movie cooks, it really sizzles.

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