This Soldiers in a New Viet Quagmire

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Just when you thought all the Vietnam War stories have been
told, here comes a new one. Showtime's A Soldier's Sweetheart is actually
more a love story than a war story -- but one that ultimately tries too hard to become a
message movie about whether men and women are truly different when exposed to war.

Though based on an award-winning short story,
writer/director Thomas Michael Donnelley's adaptation doesn't really translate
into a realistic drama. The only scene stealers are Kiefer Sutherland, as medic
"Rat" Kiley, and New Zealand, substituting nicely for Vietnam.

"Vietnam is full of strange stories, some improbable,
some way beyond that," the introductory narrator observes. But this one is so far
beyond as to strain our ability to suspend disbelief.

Bookending the main story is a conversation between Rat and
a lieutenant, during which Rat recalls a soldier named Fossie (Skeet Ulrich), who smuggled
his teenaged honey into 'Nam. The eight field medics assigned to a M*A*S*H–like
compound near the village of Tra Bong enjoyed "ideal duty," since they
didn't have to contend with gung-ho officers or combat, Rat explains.

Soon after Marianne (Georgina Cates) arrives, Rat thinks,
"She was a piece of home right here with us." Initially, the pleasant mood is
bolstered by such '60s Motown hits as the Temptations' "My Girl" on
the soundtrack.

But gradually we see Marianne's innocence slip away as
she's drawn into her new world like a moth to flame -- learning how to fire an M-16
and exploring the jungle without fear. She even adapts to the shock of severely wounded
troops in some gory scenes reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan.

"She's just an innocent kid out of high
school," says one grunt, whereupon Rat growls,

"Weren't we all?"

We also notice – again, with disbelief --
Marianne's growing fascination with a reclusive Green Berets unit nicknamed
"Greenies." When she disappears one night, it turns out she was seduced not by
another soldier but by the thrill of danger; she went on an all-night ambush patrol with
the Greenies.

The last half-hour gets even more bizarre, with an ending
that's as unsatisfying as the Vietnam War's was.

A Soldier's Sweetheart was due to bow on Showtime
on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. (ET) and is scheduled to repeat Nov. 12 and 25.

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