Directed by John McTiernan, starring John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Brian Van Holt, Giovanni Ribisi.

Why would a director reunite John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson for the first time since they were both Oscar nominated for their teamwork in 'Pulp Fiction' - and then deny them screen time together? It just doesn't make any sense. But then, nor does much of supposed thriller 'Basic'.

Travolta plays former Ranger turned DEA agent Tom Hardy, called in to investigate the disappearance of a group of Special Forces trainees and their drill sergeant (Jackson) during what was supposed to be a routine exercise in the Panamanian jungle. There are only two survivors: Dunbar (Van Holt), currently in lock-up for shooting a fellow trainee, and the injured Kendall (Ribisi), son of a Joint Chiefs of Staff official.

When Dunbar refuses to talk to investigating Captain Julia Osborne (Nielsen), base commander Col Bill Styles (Daly) turns to Hardy - despite the fact that he is under suspicion for taking bribes from drug traffickers. Osborne is a straight down the line, do-it-by-the-book kinda gal and, initially, she doesn't take too kindly to Hardy's maverick techniques. But they work and it's no time at all until Dunbar and Kendall are singing like a pair of canaries. When their songs aren't in tune, it's up to Osborne and Hardy to find out what really happened in the jungle before the trainees are shipped out.

The narrative technique of overlapping flashbacks used in 'Basic' echoes that of 'The Usual Suspects' but not to nearly the same jaw-dropping effect. While the twist in 'The Usual Suspects' led to a satisfying finale and a mental re-evaluation of the film, 'Basic's ending raises far more questions than it answers - and any re-evaluations are likely to be frustrated by plot dead-ends.

And it's not as if the acting can compensate. Laying on the charm with a shovel, John Travolta is cruising on past glories, putting more work into getting in shape for the role than developing his character. Samuel L Jackson reprises the same one-dimensional badass he's played before in films like 'XXX', and 'Deep Blue Sea' with a nod to R Lee Ermey in 'Full Metal Jacket'. Connie Nielsen, looking like a pin-up girl for military recruiters, has little to do but furrow her brow and react to Hardy's unorthodox techniques.

Filmmaking this sloppy shouldn't be rewarded. Do yourself a favour and bow out on 'Basic'.

Caroline Hennessy