- The Washington Times - Monday, October 18, 2004

“Saints and Soldiers” disintegrates in cliche and amateurish plotting while struggling to sustain a heroic yarn in the “lost patrol” tradition about G.I.s during the Battle of the Bulge.

Director Ryan Little and his associates obviously aspire to echo the appeal of “Saving Private Ryan.”

They have chosen the appropriate weather and terrain for the Ardennes in December of 1944: snowbound and wooded. The uniforms, weapons and vehicles entrusted to the expertise of a World War II “re-enactor” group, also appear adequate to the needs of fictionalized authenticity. What fails to pass inspection are the screenplay and the foreground enactment.

The writers, Geoffrey Panos and Matt Whitaker, begin by trifling with a solemn historical episode, the killing of American prisoners by a unit of the 1st Panzer Division near the Belgian town of Malmedy.

We witness signs of the aftermath, but the filmmakers backtrack clumsily to the killing field weeks earlier to introduce their characters. After this preamble, they play hide-and-seek while sorting out the attributes of four soldiers who manage to escape the slaughter.

It becomes a party of five when a British paratrooper drops into the treetops.

He claims to have vital information about the German offensive and urges the quickest possible tromp to Allied lines in order to share the intelligence. Frigid weather and stale conversation prove stumbling blocks to this worthy mission.

The G.I.s present a geographical cross section: Deke from Arizona (Corbin Allred), Gundy from Chicago (Peter Holden), Kendrick from Louisiana (Lawrence Bagby) and Gould from Brooklyn (Alexander Niver). A sergeant, Gundy outranks the others and has a history with Deke, which is short for “Deacon” and a key to his piety.

Gould, a medical corpsman, has little patience with believers. It’s unlikely that the audience will either when the writers try to foist a majestic coincidence onto their footsore plot. Deke, meanwhile, encounters a long-lost soul mate, a “good” German named Rudy.

If the character of Rudy serves any purpose, it’s to remind us that the filmmakers have grown absent-minded about that Malmedy getaway.

The final mad dash to American lines is facilitated by the theft of German uniforms, which gives the masqueraders a head start to outmaneuver the enemy.

This ruse would likely work better in a war comedy than a war melodrama.

More often than not, “Saints and Soldiers” is too preoccupied with scrambling from one episode to the next to contrive a plausible sequence of events.

TITLE: “Saints and Soldiers”

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional scenes of combat, suffering and atrocity )

CREDITS: Directed by Ryan Little. Screenplay by Geoffrey Panos and Matt Whitaker. Music by J. Bateman and Bart K. Henderson

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.saintsandsoldiers.com


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