Stateside is a double rarity: a movie which treats both military discipline and the Roman Catholic church with a modicum of respect. Whatever next? Where has director-screenwriter Reverge Anselmo been not to have learned by now the correct Hollywood view of these things? Well, apparently he’s been living a rather exciting life, for this it is supposedly his own story he is telling here, or a version of it. His stand-in is called Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker) and is a fairly typical student at a private Catholic high school in New England in 1980. When one of his classmates, Sue Dubois (Agnes Bruckner), gets him in trouble, plays a prank on her that leads to tragic consequences.

Sue is badly injured and the school’s priest-headmaster, Father Concoff (Ed Begley Jr) is crippled for life. Mark’s rich and influential but uncaring father (Joe Mantegna) manages to have the judge suspend the boy’s sentence pending his enlistment in the Marines — which was the kind of thing that influential fathers could do in those days and maybe today too for all I know. But for reasons that must also have something to do with an awakened sense of guilt, as well as to prove something, Mark is determined to make it as a marine even though his drill instructor, Sgt. Skeer (Val Kilmer), having heard that Mark comes from a wealthy home and is on probation, does his best to shake him loose from his training platoon.

Most of the best things in the film are connected with Mark’s experience of basic training. I particularly liked the part where Skeer, riding him as usual and thinking that all rich kids must grow up going to the opera, commands Mark to sing him some opera. Not knowing any, Mark breaks into a quavery rendition of “Guantanamera.” But the sergeant discovers that the lad can take everything he dishes out and so wins his grudging respect. You may remember from old, pre-1970 movies when things like this happened before in Hollywood. In those days, it was thought that that was the way you become a man — and, of course, that becoming a man was a good thing to do. You’d never know from Mr Anselmo’s film that those days are long gone, at least in Hollywod.

Anyway, Mark does. Become a man, I mean. And like a man he apologizes both to Sue and to Father Concoff, now wheelchair-bound, saying to the latter: “You sure you don’t want to strangle me?”

“Oh, I’ve planned it,” says the priest. “And I can do it in three words: Go in peace.” Odd that the idea of Christian forgiveness in the movies should seem as out-of-date as that of becoming a man.

But in visiting Sue in the sanatorium where she is staying, Mark meets her room-mate, a schizophrenic actress and singer called Dori (Rachel Leigh Cook), and he falls instantly and hopelessly in love with her. It is at this point that the movie, in my view, goes wrong. Ms Cook does a fine job with the material she’s given, and she is immensely attractive, right enough, but you can’t believe in her the way you can believe in Mark, a thoughtless boy whom a combination of remorse and outward discipline have forced to grow up. But Dori’s schizophrenia is seen as just a sort of higher octane ditziness: weirdly lovable but harmless. For those of us with some experience of real schizophrenia, this is unlikely to ring true.

Schizophrenia is not charming or endearing but frightening and devastating to the personality. It’s more like Alzheimer’s disease than it is like the sort of mild idiosyncracy or even neurosis we are meant to think of here. That is, it destroys people and leaves them hollowed out shells of human beings. Being a man may make Mark into a rescuer, but whatever else you can rescue people from, you can’t rescue them from schizophrenia. This is a shame because the movie doesn’t need to bring mental illness into the mix and could work very well without it, I think. If it weren’t for that, we would take away from it nothing more than Father Concoff’s words of wisdom, that “Sometimes situations we can’t escape are kindnesses from the hand of God.” And enough that would be too. From how many movies these days can you expect to come away with an idea like that?

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