Admittedly, Jarhead looked awful from the tag line, "Welcome to the Suck," and this 1990s rehash of a zillion war movie clichés is a plotless nomad in the desert, which is a shame; with 2,000 U.S. military deaths in the Middle East, where the movie takes place, America could use a provocative movie about what it means to fight.
This surreal display of depravity, which practically spits on anyone who serves in the Armed Forces, is not it. A band of sniper Marines practice, grunt and boogie during the first President Bush's Iraq intervention in what amounts to pure nihilism.
Starring the double-voweled Jake Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, with Jamie Foxx and others as members of the Marine Corps, Jarhead plays them as filthy hogs and tries to elevate their dull, daily desert grind to importance. Showing the men through Gyllenhaal's uninvolving character—whose purpose in life is ogling snapshots of a sexual conquest he calls a girlfriend—titles tell the time, time ticks slowly and Jarhead turns up the volume on the ticking.
That is the point of director Sam Mendes' laborious account, with a side of existentialism, based on a book of the same name and adapted by hit-and-miss screenwriter William Broyles, Jr., an ex-Marine who also wrote Apollo 13 and Cast Away. It's like trying to make sense of Albert Camus, the movie's favorite philosopher.
Buzzed, buffed and vacant Gyllenhaal is called upon to carry a movie with no lead character. He sits, he bleeds, he waits to kill. He trains, he parties, he waits to kill. He makes pals with Sarsgaard's latest lunatic and other war pic types: tough black man (Foxx), hick (Lucas Black), guy with glasses (Brian Geraghty), Hispanic who lives for la familia (Jacob Vargas) and old Marine (Chris Cooper, Gyllenhaal's October Sky dad and the volatile ex-Marine from Mendes' American Beauty).
Dramatizing the idea that nothing matters to Marines—dubious given the Corps' outstanding record and reputation—except the avoidance of responsibility in favor of thrills, Jarhead pits that false dichotomy in an endless storm of swearing and vile references to women and asks that they be pitied for going 62 days without getting laid. These men are not fighting for values—they're not fighting for anything—they're the few, the unprepared, the jaded.
This hammered-home philosophy takes Gyllenhaal's grunt from enlistment through training and deployment to its logical conclusion—life is boring, war is something to do, and these jugheads have nothing to live for anyway. Peppered with dream sequences, narratives and phony scenes of burned vehicles and bodies, it is a false premise even on its own terms. But take Jarhead at its word and skip the suck.