After the lyrical nihilism of the opening credits, Robert Altman talks turkey: These are the Combat! grounds post-That Cold Day in the Park, the camera zooms in as overlapping chatter makes mincemeat out of the Ring Lardner, Jr. script. Vietnam is camouflaged ("And then there was... KOREA"), Donald Sutherland and Tom Skerritt drive a stolen jeep into the titular military tent-town -- gore drips off the surgery tables but itís all one huge frat house, Elliott Gould joins them in martini glass-clinking and swamp golf. Authority is dispensed with as soon as the camera fastens on to the plumed fly-fishing hooks in the colonelís (Roger Bowen) flannel cap, the evangelical proselytizer (Robert Duvall) and the devoted head nurse (Sally Kellerman) require a little more work so their lovemaking is broadcast for the rest of the camp. (The morning-after snickering in the mess hall has to be among the ugliest of cinemaís supposedly "fun" scenes.) Other yuks in this jock commune include curtains up on Kellermanís shower, the football game from Horse Feathers and the Japanese pronunciation of the "lís" in "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo" over the loudspeakers, a flaccid Don Juan (John Schuck) expires in a mock-Michelangelo tableau and is resurrected thanks to good olí chauvinism. "That man is a prisoner of war, doctor." "So are you, sweetheart, but you donít know it." Basically a Raoul Walsh barracks jaunt (Marines, Letís Go, say), with Walshís old-school chivalry scraped off so that the paranoia and anger of a generation pours freely. The brackish irony is that the liberators are really bullies: Their macho antics arenít rebellious ways of hanging on to humanity in the face of war, but troglodyte impulses which have been unchained and excused by war. Altman chronicles the sardonic wasteland with a camera that's always in the wrong place at the right time. Itís one thing to cast Orson Welles in your satire (Catch-22), itís another to re-imagine Wellesís style of controlled chaos for a cagey new decade. With Rene Auberjonois, David Arkin, Jo Ann Pflug, Fred Williamson, Gary Burghoff, Michael Murphy, Carl Golttlieb, Kim Atwood, Corey Fischer, Bud Cort, and G. Wood.
--- Fernando F. Croce