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The Inexplicable Charm of Charlie Sheen

Navyseals

No man has quite the relationship with action, comedy, and self-parody that Charlie Sheen has.  He shows up in a so-so movie, letting you think the joke is on him—when really the joke is on you, because you wind up sitting through all of Young Guns , The Rookie , or Navy SEALs   then have to admit that these movies are made completely watchable thanks to his presence.

Navy SEALs was exactly the kind of movie that Sheen went on to spoof in Hot Shots . ("It’s Top Gun with water," snarked reviewer Joe Brown in the Washington Post.)  But it also captured a moment in American pop-culture just before our fantasies of Middle Eastern conflict came face-to-face with harsh reality: Less than two weeks after SEALs hit theaters, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq.  Six days later, units from all branches of the US Armed Forces were deployed to initiate Operation Desert Shield.  Every war movie that followed would have new Gulf War-era revelations to draw from, and our own cultural sensitivity toward the entire region reached new heights which changed the way Middle Eastern people were portrayed in film— from 1991 onward, even the teenagers in the audience would know that things were a little more complicated than a terrorist’s bad-guy sneer.

Even from the other side of that cultural divide, this movie still rocks way harder than it has any right to, with Sheen’s boyish charm at its peak and director Lewis Teague discovering a flair for explosive action sequences. 

Navy Seals plays tonight, Wednesday, January 2 at 8 p.m. | 7C on AMC.

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