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MISSION KANDAHAR: 3 STARS. “melodrama and action are the movie’s reality.”

Gerard Butler is no stranger to action. On film he’s battled more terrorists than you can shake a stick at, and he once even took on a network of powerful of satellites gone amok.

His latest, “Mission Kandahar” (titled simply “Kandahar” in the United States), now playing in theatres, brings the action earthbound in a story based on the true experiences of screenwriter and former military intelligence officer, Mitchell LaFortune in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks.

Butler is Tom Harris, a divorced MI5 military intelligence officer working undercover in Afghanistan circa 2021. He is a “total chameleon,” a man who disappears into the job as he poses as technician hired by their government to lay internet cable in the desert, all the while while gathering intelligence on the Taliban.

Just as he is about to end his mission, and head home to England to visit his daughter, an intelligence leak reveals his identity, location and mission goals. “Our cover is blown,” he says. “We leave in fifteen minutes.”

Exposed and in danger, he and his loyal Afghan interpreter and fixer (Navid Negahban) are trapped in hostile territory.

“No one is coming to rescue us,” Harris says, as he takes matters into his own hands to get the two of them across the 640 kilometers to an extraction point at an old CIA base in Kandahar Province before elite enemy forces can stop them. “The distance is not the main issue. It’s what’s in between.”

Butler, like Liam Neeson, makes very specific kinds of action films. With “Mission Kandahar” he filters the very real issue of securing safety for the Afghan citizens who worked alongside U.S. and NATO personnel for twenty years, through the lens of a Butler Action Flick. That means some defying-all-odds action, a loved one waiting at home for him to return, stereotypical baddies and lots of things that go boom. And, of course, there’s The Presence, the bulky Butler leading the action.

Often entertaining—see “Plane”—Butler’s movies exist in a world mostly untouched by reality, as though the golden era of direct-to-DVD action flicks never went away.

For better and for worse, “Mission Kandahar” fits that mold. The story’s real-life backdrop provides a canvas, but melodrama and action are the movie’s reality.

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