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Land of Bad (2024) Review

The Sulu Sea is a body of water in the southwestern area of the Philippines, and as the opening crawl of Land of Bad tells us, home to some of the most violent extremists in Asia. It’s also where Master Sergeant John “Sugar” Sweet (Milo Ventimiglia, This is Us, Armored) and his team, Sergeant Abell (Luke Hemsworth, Kill Me Three Times, Infini) and Sergeant Bishop (Ricky Whittle, The 100, Dream Team) are being deployed.

Joining them is Air Force Sergeant J.J. Kinney (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Triangle) a rookie JTAC. He’s not qualified to go out with these guys, but he was the only one available to act as their link with drone operators Reaper (Russell Crowe, Poker Face, Gladiator) and Nia (Chika Ikogwe, Mikki vs the World, Unravelling) back in the US.

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Director William Eubank (Underwater, The Signal) and co-writer David Frigerio (Wreckage, Crypto) take Land of Bad’s familiar scenario of a tightly-knit team of seasoned veterans sent into battle with a new recruit and run with it. What should have been a simple rescue mission goes south when the bad guys they were planning to deal with are attacked by even worse guys led by Saeed Hashimi (Robert Rabiah, Blood Brothers, Chopper). The ensuing firefight leaves Kinney alone and under heavy fire, and it’s up to Reaper to guide him to safety.

Running just under two hours, Land of Bad has plenty of time for action set pieces. And it delivers plenty of them as the plot shifts from a rescue mission to escape and evasion and finally back to rescue and extraction and the inevitable race against time to avoid being killed by friendly fire. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and with its jungle setting, it feels like one of the better Vietnam themed films from the 1980s and 90s.

In keeping with the plot, and probably the budget, there’s only one major firefight but plenty of smaller scale fights. Helping to make up for that, there are plenty of explosions as Reaper lives up to his name and uses the drones to help even the odds.

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Land of Bad also doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of the kind of war the extremists are waging. A woman is beheaded, one of the team is executed on camera for a propaganda video and there are, of course, torture and interrogation scenes. Eubank walks a fine line with those scenes, making them brutal enough to have an impact, but not going over the line into horror or torture porn territory.

I hope you enjoy Land of Bad. More than anything else, I wanted to give the audience a ride, an experience, a great time.  I wanted white-knuckle tension, a bond between characters that would play with your emotions in moments of peril. 

William Eubank

Where the film does try something different is in the way it contrasts the scenes between Kinney in the field and Reaper behind a desk at a control centre in Vegas. Both are part of the same mission, but the conditions couldn’t be more different, one dodging bullets, the other dealing with a wife whose about to give birth and helping plan a friend’s wedding.

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It’s interesting watching the rapport develop between the two of them in the first half of the film. But in the second half it seems a bit more forced and seems to be there simply to add a second, and not overly compelling, race against time scenario to the film. It also allows for some clunky speechifying in the final minutes that I could have done without. In fact, one of Land of Bad’s pleasant surprises is the lack of political or propaganda speeches from anyone in the film beyond a sneered “Welcome to Guantánamo Bay” directed at the captive Americans.

The result is an enjoyably fast passed and violent film with a game cast who, with some help from fight coordinator Kenny Low (Black Site, Top Knot Detective) energetically throw themselves into the film’s action scenes. The result, like the drone’s Hellfire missiles, are a blast.

The Avenue will release Land of Bad in theatres on February 16th, a date for Blu-ray and Digital availability has yet to be announced.

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