If the military has classified or sensitive documents to dispose of, they use a “burn bag” to eliminate its paper waste.
But when military movies are a complete and utter waste of time, Military Times recognizes them with the Burn Bag Challenge Coin, a special award to celebrate just how cringeworthy and forgettable they are. In fact, so forgettable that no semblance should remain.
In military movies released in 2021, contenders offered bizarre conspiracy theories, cliché catch phrases, and absurdly dramatized displays of PTSD. These award categories recognize an element of military lore or a stereotype portrayed on the silver screen at their most bombastic.
The first award embodies the spirit of the newly minted enlisted male. He lives fast and loose, has a bad haircut and almost no money. But he did just buy a cool car and paid for it on credit with a criminally high interest rate. This year’s 27 percent interest rate award goes to ‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,’ starring Michael B. Jordan as SEAL John Kelley.
“Without Remorse” tells the story of Navy SEAL’s plan to avenge his slain wife, and it is problematic for a series reasons, including a strange PTSD fever-dream scene wherein Kelley, preparing to go after one of the killers, takes a vodka shower. That’s not to say he drinks a lot. Instead, he stands in front of a mirror, fully clothed, in the dark, and dumps an entire handle of cheap vodka over his head. A digression, but this movie hits the cliches hardest in a critical scene. What Kelley and his fellow SEALs drive embody the newest service member stereotype because their rides include a red Mustang and an electric blue Dodge Charger. Viewers are left on the edge of their seat with just one question: not who will survive or why am I watching this, but instead, how outrageous is the interest rate on that thing?
New LTs are notoriously bad at land navigation and pulling rank on senior enlisted. It is for that reason that we devised a category to honor those stupid lieutenants who, fresh out of the academy, already know everything about leadership and the hardships of war. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in ‘Outside the Wire.’
Lt. Harp, played by Damson Idris, is a remote pilot who kills American troops in a firefight on the ground by being a cold, calculated, callous... drone... if you will. Not only does he engage in this act of friendly fire, he does so against orders. In the real world, he’d have been discharged from the military faster than a hellfire missile. But this is a movie, so instead, they send him (gasp) to the field to experience what ground combat is really like. Expectedly, he scares easily and sucks at combat, mostly. Aside from the idiot LT though, this movie explores a world where Cold War tensions are still a threat to global stability but the artificial intelligence is so advanced that Anthony Mackie is actually a robot soldier even though the rest of his compatriots still look like the creepy robot dogs that General Dynamics lets loose at trade shows. Congratulations on the achievement. No congratulations to the new lieutenants.
“How many people have you killed?” It’s every service member’s favorite thing to complain about being asked. This year’s award for “How Many People Have You Killed” seeks out daring filmmakers whose main characters draw on the specific pain of special forces veterans at July 4 barbecues who just want to be left alone but can’t seem to escape what their neighbors imagine to be a torrid, blood-soaked past.
The award in this category, therefore, goes to ‘One Shot’ for an opening line so painful, you might wish the director just shot you in the leg instead of forcing you to suffer through it. In a voiceover done on a black screen paired with the wash from a helicopter, Navy SEAL Jake Harris (Scott Adkins) says, “When people find out you’re a teams guy, first question they ask is how many people you’ve killed. Nobody ever asks how many people you’ve saved.” Sorkin-esque dialogue for Col. Nathan Jessup it is not. The transfer mission his team is tasked with afterwards has an equally absurd terrorist prison-break premise, but nothing is quite as cringeworthy as that introduction.
Everyone knows one of those veterans that thinks the government is out to get them. Take for instance the spook in ‘World War Z’ that hears about zombies and removes all his own teeth. Such insane thinking is surely worthy of a prize. As such, this year’s “Conspiracy Theory Tin-Hat-Wearing Veteran” coin goes to an extremely jacked J.K. Simmons for his role in ‘The Tomorrow War.’
The Oscar-winning actor plays James Daniel Forester Sr., the Vietnam veteran father of main character Dan Forester (Chris Pratt). At one point, a supporting character refers to him as “Conspiracy Santa” for his utterly ridiculous ‘roid rage looking physique and wily whiskers, and we couldn’t agree more with that moniker. He hates the government and keeps an arsenal of aircraft and weapons that would make even Lockheed Martin jealous, despite the fact that he lives “off the grid.” However, it’s still almost not enough to prevent a single knocked-up alien she-beast from populating the Earth with her evil spawn and bringing about the “tomorrow war.” What an achievement.
The most illustrious award, the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” Burn Bag Challenge Coin, goes to a cinematic enterprise so contrived and bewildering, there is no way to describe it other than the worst movie of the year. The pièce de résistance, winner of this most hallowed challenge coin, is “Zeros and Ones.”
Starring Ethan Hawke as both the main character, an American soldier named JJ, and his incarcerated terrorist brother, this avant garde movie forces viewers to ask “What the f***?” with just about every frame change. It has it all: religion, war, terrorism, and stunningly little dialogue that made much sense. Why is an American soldier stationed in Rome, Italy, alone? Where is his unit? Where is the base? Why is he pretending to be a camera man? No one knows. After two viewings, this judge can’t say with any certainty that she understood the premise of this film at all. It’s a great movie if you hate cohesive plot lines and dynamic dialogue but love panning shots of Roman architecture. Bravo Zulu.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.