’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale
1 Globe (out of 5)
Michael Bay heard about the Battle of Benghazi and he thought it would make a great Michael Bay movie. And so it has. “13 Hours” isn’t about the four Americans who died; it’s about the six awesome, muscular he-men who bagged about 100 scary foreigners. It’s “America, F— Yeah!” writ large and with as many fiery booms as one of Bay's “Transformers” entries. It’s a director with unexamined issues around sexism, racism, xenophobia and gay panic driving like “Mad Max”’s Furiosa into a powder keg situation. We don't mean the Benghazi blame game itself, which Bay handles but briefly and passive-aggressively. It's about how to portray a real-life tragedy without turning it into another explode-y action blockbuster.
Would it be a Bay movie if he didn’t fail miserably? Or if he never cared about niceties in the first place? “13 Hours” hitches its sails to the six macho CIA security contractors who improbably, heroically and tirelessly saved the day when Libyan attackers laid siege upon two separate American compounds. They’re a motley crew engaged in a beard-off so intense it’s sometimes difficult to tell which is which. At least Bay was wise to cast John Krasinski as the sorta-lead, Jack Da Silva. He brings genuine soulfulness to a character who does little but run and shoot things. The rest are interchangeable Men, prone to jokes about football and spooning, sometimes in the middle of intense, muddled mayhem. One of them (James Badge Dale) scores the Michael Bay-iest line in film history: “Payback’s a bitch, and her stripper name is karma.”
“13 Hours” peaks early with that line, but there’s plenty more offenses to come. The locals are all filmed like zombies — frightening Others shooting and screaming sans subtitles. (You could make the argument that that’s on purpose, as part of our hero’s fear is not knowing which Libyans are “friendlies” or baddies. But Bay has a terrible xenophobic track record, and he even shoots innocent Muslims praying as though it was a horror film.) The only prominent female character (played by Alexia Barlier) is at one point told — by one of our heroes, no less — to shut up and put on her head scarf, just like all the other oppressed women in the region. An unfailing leerer of comely female flesh (and male flesh, at least when it’s dudes flexing their pecs), Bay is at sea in a deserted hellscape, forced to settle for slipping in cutaways of hotcha stewardesses into an otherwise somber scene.