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‘The Iron Triangle’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 03, 1989

Beau Bridges sounds like he overdosed on sleeping pills and is being kept awake to do the narration of "The Iron Triangle." His weary voice-over shrouds this well-intentioned but trite Vietnam war story, Hamburger Hell from the enemy's perspective.

Director Eric Weston and his two cowriters deserve a smart salute for attempting a first humanistic look at the other side of the DMZ, though these well-fed guerrillas seem to be serving under Colonel Sanders. They're VC for the VCR.

Essentially Weston takes a Viet Cong soldier's blood-stained diary and turns it into a buddy movie, with Bridges as a blustery infantry captain, Keene, and Liem Whatley as the diary's owner, the reluctant guerrilla Ho. Eventually "this crazy war brings us together," mumbles Keene over the cross-fire.

An intellectual but effective soldier, Ho captures Keene during an ambush at the base of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While the two march back to Ho's base camp, they come to admire each other for their dedication to duty. Keene finds that he and his quietly fierce captor are after all just men behind their beautiful big guns.

Obviously, this bunker buddy movie is no match for the "The Enemy Below" or "Platoon's" enemy within, but it operates on a conceit that is as sturdy as combat boots. What we are shown of the Viet Cong's stealth and ferocity and what we learn of the Vietnamese villagers' plight is provocative. Oscar winner Haing Ngor is persuasive in a small part as the commander of the guerrilla platoon -- and he is one of the few actors with a convincing accent. The head of the Communist Party (James Ishida) acts and sounds more like Dave Butz.

The South Vietnamese-born Whatley's evocative debut and Bridges' bellicose spit 'n' polish prove compatible, but the good is undermined by the technicolor dawns and the Pier 1 sets, the dreadful soapbox dialogue and the connect-the-dot direction. Throw in the brutality, and there should be a Purple Heart for every viewer.

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