The PT-73 is back in the water in an update of the 1960s TV staple “McHale’s Navy,” with Tom Arnold now at the ship’s helm. Time and adapters have not been kind to the fun-loving series. Pic, which relocates crew to peacetime on a quiet Caribbean isle and reinvents McHale as a wheeler-dealer Bilko, fails to revive whatever fond memories one has of the source material. But even for a generation with only secondhand knowledge of the show, the new outing is a ham-fisted, fitfully amusing lark that quickly runs aground. The comedy’s toothlessness and forced antics don’t add up to much commercially, and only its lineage bodes slightly better B.O. than Arnold’s previous bigscreen vehicles, “Big Bully,” “The Stupids” and “Carpool.”
The new chapter opens after McHale has left the service and set up shop on the Caribbean isle, supplying his former cronies at the nearby base with everything from ice cream and ale to cheesecake calendars. But two things are happening that threaten to destroy the tranquillity of the outpost. The priggish Capt. Wallace Binghampton (Dean Stockwell) — famous as the man who sank the Love Boat during a routine maneuver — takes command of the naval station with the self-imposed mandate of getting it ship-shape. On the other end of the island, the governor has made a deal with renegade powers to use the atoll as a military base for terrorist operations.
The thrust of Peter Crabbe’s script is to get the big-hearted McHale back in action and reunited with his lovable lugs. The motivation is that his former nemesis, Maj. Vladikov (Tim Curry), is in charge of covert operations and ready to level the island and render its inhabitants homeless in order to sack world peace and fulfill a vendetta against the former PT boat captain. Though McHale is reluctant to re-don Navy whites, some things are just bigger than petty grievances.
The scenario is considerably more promising than what is delivered by director Bryan Spicer, who is totally adrift when it comes to setting a tone for the material. The goofy capers chafe beside elaborate set pieces in which McHale’s compound is leveled or the island town is invaded by tanks and commandos. Rather than a movie, it feels very much like a series of episodes strung together to conform to feature length. While the derring-do is acceptable, if pedestrian, the comedy bits are embarrassing and overplayed. Stockwell is a prime offender, but even the normally reliable Curry succumbs to mugging and hysterical gestures to underline the fact that the film is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.
Pic trots out the original McHale, Ernest Borgnine, as well as Tommy Chong to provide some leavening and nostalgia. Borgnine acquits himself well as the head of black ops and provides the “Maverick”-style twist ending. But Chong is wasted in an ill-conceived section in which the crew goes on a mission to Cuba to acquire contraband Russian tech gear.
It’s obvious, after close to a dozen film roles, that Arnold is a first-rate second banana. But the breezy, natural, ordinary manner he effects in his star turns comes across as boring and unfelt. He connects only when his smile turns into a smirk, and the glint in his eye reveals a loose grip on proper social behavior and sanity.
The idea of reviving “McHale’s Navy” probably would have worked with the same creative elements and cast … but served up as a midseason TV series.