Reportedly the first fictional feature to deal directly with the Persian Gulf conflict, “The Human Shield” is a lame, small-budget actioner that exploits its political context without delivering the expected thrills of the genre. Short on big-scale set pieces and saddled with a preposterous plot, pic will quickly die at the B.O. and head straight for video.
Following a short prologue depicting a brutal massacre of innocent villagers by Iraqi soldiers in 1985, story switches to August 1990, right after the invasion of Kuwait. Hero Michael Dudikoff, a former U.S. Marine instructor with the CIA who trained Iraqi soldiers to fight Iran, goes back to Iraq when his diabetic brother Tommy Hinkley is taken hostage by a ruthless, power-mad Iraqi general who, as essayed by Steve Inwood, looks and acts like Saddam Hussein.
There is also a ridiculous romantic subplot involving Hana Azoulay-Hasfari, a beautiful doctor who was once Dudikoff’s flame but married the Iraqi general to save the American’s life back in 1985.
Formulaic pic borrows heavily from “Rambo” and assorted Cannon action items such as “Missing in Action,” relying on the overly familiar sequencing of imprisonment, rescue and escape, peppered with the obligatory chases and explosions.
Mann Rubin’s screenplay, based on a story by him and Mike Werb, is embarrassingly predictable and simplistic. “Fresh air is the only thing left for them,” says a doctor about those impounded in a refugee camp. And the general tells his hostage, “I don’t want you to leave Iraq without enjoying its cultural traditions.”
Helmer Ted Post, a proficient craftsman (“Hang ‘Em High,””Go Tell the Spartans”), commits the fatal mistake of unfolding his narrative at a slow pace, which allows the viewer to always remain ahead of the story. Furthermore, climactic showdown between Dudikoff and the general at a chemical weapons plant is poorly executed.
Film was shot entirely in Israel, which doubles quite convincingly as Iraq and Jordan. Cast consists of many Israeli actors attempting, none too effectively, Iraqi accents. Production values are unimpressive, contributing to a low-budget look.
With the exception of the handsome Dudikoff, who carries his duties with the required assurance, acting is downright weak.
“The Human Shield” may be most noteworthy for featuring a CIA officer as its hero, a rarity in American films of the last decade. Post claims in the press notes that he wanted to show the differences between the Iraqi and American cultures, because “ignorance and misperception are the enemy of effective communication.” However, judging by what’s on the screen, his movie might perpetuate the stereotypes Americans have about Iraq.