All throughout Boot Camp, I was trying to figure out what the purpose was in its creation. Was it trying to say that dragging teenagers from their houses, shipping them off to Fiji and keeping them there until they learned their lesson was a good thing, or a bad thing? I couldn’t tell until the end. For the most part, this is a film that is completely neutral about its main issue, even if the opening and closing text-over screens aren’t.
This is apparently based on true events, although how true they were is never said. More importantly, it doesn’t matter how real it is or claims to be, because films based on true stories are going to take whatever liberties they can get away with anyway. Boot Camp stars Mila Kunis as Sophie, a girl whose father died, and her mother remarried a man she hates. As a result, she acts out and ends up getting kidnapped, shipped to Fiji, etc.
She has a boyfriend, Ben (Gregory Smith), who is torn up about her leaving. So much so, that he decides to buy some sort of drug, not pay for it, and then inject himself with saline instead of the drug, just to get sent to the camp with her. Why? He has a plan to get her out of there. Camp Serenity, as it is called, is run by Dr. Hail (Peter Stormare). You know he’s credible because he got his PhD online. He supposedly has dedicated his life to helping troubled teens, although there doesn’t appear to be much psychological support for the teens on the island.
The first day at camp is the worst, we find out. Sophie and the other two new “recruits” are chained to a rock and forced to avoid being drowned by the incoming tide. I’m not exactly sure how they’re expected to work after having their body crushed all night, but that’s why I don’t have a PhD in, well, something. After that, they get a black shirt, some new shoes, and shorts, and get to labor all day, and then forced to eat what essentially amounts to table scraps for meals. Again, how they can work without proper nutrition — and how depriving them of proper nutrition in the first place is beneficial — is not explained.
Most of the film just follows Sophie living her days out at the camp. Months pass, as the handy text that appears every now and then tells us, and the camp actually seems to be doing its job. Maybe this doctor knows what he’s talking about after all. But then we also get to see the corruption from some of the staff, as well as the psychotic behavior from Dr. Hail himself, so we end up about even. You could question whether the ends justify the means, but that’s a question you’ll have to bring up, because Boot Camp sidesteps it like it’s a charging bull and it’s wearing a red shirt.
Sophie doesn’t have much personality, which is at least consistent with the other characters, who are all equally as lifeless. They’ve all got problems, otherwise they wouldn’t end up at this camp, but having a “tragic” back story isn’t enough to make a character interesting. This is especially true when that back story doesn’t even factor into how they act and think. They allow the characters to earn automatic sympathy, but that’s the only purpose they serve.
What’s refreshing, I suppose, about Boot Camp, is that it doesn’t follow the generic coming-of-age plot. By the end of the film, I’m not even sure whether or not the characters have learned anything at all; in fact, some of them might have regressed. Not following the “bad kid, learning, grown up” plot works in the film’s advantage, because it means it isn’t easily predictable.
With that said, the plot doesn’t exactly allow you to guess what’s going to happen next, as it jumps in whatever direction it wants at any given moment. It’ll go in some pretty strange directions too, and at times, you’ll never understand the logic behind director Christian Duguay’s decisions. Things often don’t make sense, and they also come out of nowhere, which at least keeps things fresh and interesting.
Boot Camp still feels like an amateurish movie though, and it’s no real surprise that it was released direct-to-DVD. There are times when the sound levels aren’t great, the cinematography felt off, and overall, the production values felt low. I looked, and the budget for this was $14 million, which felt really high, especially considering nobody in the cast would demand that high of a salary. I figure that moving everyone to Fiji for a few weeks ate up most of that money. (Filming then moved to my hometown of Calgary, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to see this.)
If there’s one thing to take away from this film, it’s seeing Mila Kunis playing against type. At this point in her career, she’d mostly been known for roles in comedies. Here, she gets to play a dead-serious teenager who knows much about the hardships of life. She actually does a good job in the role. Stormare plays a convincingly creepy camp owner, while everyone else gets to disappear into the background just fine.
Boot Camp isn’t all that great, but it’s a solid movie about what could happen if you’re forced to go to a boot camp in Fiji. It stays neutral for most of the time it plays about whether or not boot camps are beneficial, and it avoids falling into the clichés of the coming-of-age movie. It doesn’t feel all that professional though, and there also isn’t a lot going on with the plot — something that jumps around, going in whatever direction it feels like. It’s still an entertaining watch though, and it’s always nice to see Mila Kunis in a serious role.