The Pentagon Wars

  • 1998
  • Movie
  • R
  • Comedy

The military bureaucracy takes it on the chin in this comedy, made for HBO and based on the true story of an Army weapons project that spent a staggering amount of money on a vehicle that didn't work. Crisply directed by Richard Benjamin, THE PENTAGON WARS delivers its best punches subtly. In 1983, Air Force Lt. Col. James Burton (Cary Elwes) is assigned...read more

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The military bureaucracy takes it on the chin in this comedy, made for HBO and based on the true story of an Army weapons project that spent a staggering amount of money on a vehicle that didn't work. Crisply directed by Richard Benjamin, THE PENTAGON WARS delivers its best punches

subtly.

In 1983, Air Force Lt. Col. James Burton (Cary Elwes) is assigned to oversee the testing of new military hardware at an Army testing post under Major General Partridge (Kelsey Grammer). Alerted by an anonymous phone caller, Burton learns that, despite efforts by Partridge's staff to distract him,

tests on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle were done with ammunition that wouldn't dent a paper bag. Examining the voluminous paperwork on the Bradley, he reads that it has been in development since 1968, during which time it has gone from an economical troop transport vehicle to a monster designed to

do too many different things. He discovers that his secret phone caller is General Smith (Richard Schiff), who guided the Bradley for years and is afraid to ruin his career by going public with his knowledge that it is a death trap. Burton's attempts to openly test the Bradley are stymied by

Partridge, whose own career is on the line. By convincing Smith to leak a story to the newspapers, Burton gets the matter before a Congressional panel, which is horrified to learn that the Bradley project has already cost $14 billion. The panel demands a live-fire test. Partridge orders base

personnel to correct problems in the vehicle scheduled to be tested, and stages the test as a public relations event. But unknown to him, the mechanics have returned the test Bradley to its original state, and in what is supposed to be a demonstration of its "invulnerability," it is destroyed.

The story of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is probably not the worst example of military misspending, and the limitations of a feature film require the script to condense its history rather too much. And the characters are a shade too broad, though Kelsey Grammer invests General Partridge with just

the right combination of oily charm and calculated bluster. (As Burton, however, Cary Elwes looks uncomfortably like Oliver North). The best parts of THE PENTAGON WARS demonstrate the greater problem, that the American military is a colossal, overfed bureaucracy where, as in every bureaucracy, the

goal of the organization often takes a back seat to the needs of its members. A caption at the end of the film notes that, despite the monumental waste in the Bradley program, most of the officers involved were either promoted or went on to high-paying defense industry jobs, while the Pentagon

budgeted another $1 billion for "capability upgrades" on the Bradley. The humor in THE PENTAGON WARS, which like many HBO productions is adult in the best sense of the word, mitigates a bitter pill, but that bitterness leaves an aftertaste. (Profanity.)

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: R
  • Review: The military bureaucracy takes it on the chin in this comedy, made for HBO and based on the true story of an Army weapons project that spent a staggering amount of money on a vehicle that didn't work. Crisply directed by Richard Benjamin, THE PENTAGON WARS… (more)

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