A “burn bag” is known to be deployed to eliminate paper waste any time the U.S. military wants to dispose of classified documents.
For the Observation Post, “Burn Bag Challenge Coins” are annual awards given to military films that were a painful waste of precious viewing time. It’s the highest honor for the worst movies. For 2022, contenders included seriously out-of-regs characters, lunar alien artificial intelligence conspiracies, corny Army captains and cliché canines.
Categories have been determined by each movie’s degree of absurdity, shrouded in military stereotype or lore. Of course, the most coveted title — the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” award — goes to the absolute worst of the worst, a film that begs the question, “WTF did I just watch?”
Let’s dive in.
The ‘I Almost Joined the Military But’ Award goes to:
“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” was inspired by the true story of Marine veteran John “Chickie” Donahue. Although he did serve as a noncombat Marine for four years prior the Vietnam War, he separated and became a merchant mariner before later visiting Vietnam as a civilian to deliver beer to his neighborhood friends serving in the Army.
The film leans hard into the idea that the bright-eyed Donahue (Zac Efron) had no idea of what he was getting himself into, and that delivering beer to one of the most most dangerous places on the planet — Vietnam in 1968 — was the best way he could serve his country. “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” does have some moments of clarity, but ultimately carries the tone of the “I almost joined the military but…” Burn Bag award throughout its entirety.
The Saltiest Dog Award goes to:
It may be a bit on the wet nose to award “The Saltiest Dog” Burn Bag award to a movie entitled “Dog,” but in this case, the two leads, a man and a dog, are in fact wildly salty. In this staid story, Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) has been deemed unfit for duty thanks to a traumatic brain injury. Instead of deploying, he is then tasked with delivering Lulu, a military working dog, to attend the funeral of her handler and his battle buddy, Riley Rodriguez.
A particularly aggressive Belgian Malinois, Lulu is set to be euthanized following the funeral (we’d be salty, too). Along the journey, Briggs and Lulu form a bond via their shared trauma. And while story allows plenty of opportunity to build a less cliché presentation about the struggles of a military working animal, “Dog” chooses instead to illustrate her struggle through Lulu’s disdain for the sound of guns, hatred of Middle Eastern men, and fear of thunderstorms — all things Briggs subjects her to in his quest for redemption. Of course, it has a predictably happy “we saved each other” conclusion.
Bravo Zulu Lulu.
The Semper Soup Sandwich Award goes to:
Last year the U.S. Space Force unveiled its official song, “Semper Supra.” But 2022 also saw the release of the military-space movie “Moonfall,” which was an absolute soup sandwich.
Astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) is disgraced after a lunar mission he’s piloting is attacked by an alien horde, resulting in the death of a colleague. His partner, Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (Halle Berry), sells him out to NASA because she doesn’t believe what she saw really happened. A decade later, conspiracy theorist and cat dad K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), steals some NASA credentials and learns that the moon is falling out of the sky. The world falls into a state of panic when he releases his findings on social media. As chunks of moon begin to collapse toward Earth’s surface, the U.S. military predictably decides there is only one solution: blow up the moon.
Harper, Houseman and Fowler take matters into their own hands and launch themselves into space to tango with what turns out to be a sophisticated artificial intelligence swarm that humanoid ancestors created eons before. Naturally, the AI became sentient and inevitably hostile. (ChatGPT has entered the chat.)
The moon, as it turns out, was just a spaceship the past humanoids used to escape the robot assassins. And, after detonating an EMP to blow up the swarm and fix the moon’s gravity, everyone lives happily ever after, except Houseman who sacrifices himself and becomes part of the moon’s collective intelligence. Because why not? As such, this film is awarded the “Semper Soup Sandwich” award for being one of the most ridiculous military movies of the year.
The Dishonorably Discharged Award goes to:
“The Contractor” is what would happen if Tom Clancy’s boy scoutish Jack Ryan decided to sell his soul and join Blackwater. Much like its protagonist, Sgt. 1st Class James Harper (Chris Pine), the movie was, as this Burn Bag award explains, dishonorably discharged to the general public. It has been stripped of almost all benefits of the doubt typically given to an entertaining-but-pointless popcorn movie.
In desperate need of money after being discharged from the Army for abusing steroids to treat a knee injury, Harper is hired by generic Erik Prince-ian character Rusty Jennings (Keifer Sutherland). Believing he’s getting a fat payout to save the world from bioterrorists, Harper initially takes a no-questions-asked approach to the mission — that is, until he’s nearly taken out by a hit team.
Going into spy mode, Harper learns he’s actually part of a conspiracy to sell a crucial vaccine for immense profit. He ultimately gets revenge and redemption through a series of actions that can only be described as confusing. In the end, the only things more outlandish than the plot are the hilarious full-sleeve tattoos that look completely out of place on Sutherland’s arms.
And the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Award goes to:
The award for worst movie of the year goes to “The Interceptor.”
When we first meet Army Capt. JJ Collins (Elsa Pataky), she is in a Navy plane headed to a remote nuclear missile interceptor facility in the Pacific. She’s in the Army, everyone around her appears to be Air Force or Navy, and the hub looks like an oil drilling station in the middle of the ocean.
Within the film’s first five minutes, the movie clumsily establishes that Collins’ career is on shaky ground after she reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault to her chain of command. This plot point, which is revisited time and again as something for Collins to overcome, undermines the very real issue of sexual harassment in the U.S. military, but let’s continue.
Collins’ facility is attacked just as the film gets going. Word then comes that nukes are coming for all major U.S. cities. It’s an inside job led by ex-Army intelligence officer Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey), who essentially colludes with Russia to wipe America off the map due to some past daddy issues.
Kessel goads Collins about her sexual trauma, which she seemingly overcomes to save the day. In the process, however, she is shot in the arm, which she fixes with duct tape. Collins also decapitates a villain with barbed wire using her one working arm, and manages to perform a preposterous one-handed monkey bar swing over the open ocean. The dialog is something for the books, and despite the fact that missiles heading for the homeland need to be intercepted in 15 minutes or less, the movie drones through a stunning 92 minutes.
On the upside, the interceptor facility did have a pet turtle, who, aside from Collins, was the only cast member to make it out alive. If nuclear winter had occurred, this movie could have made a great prequel to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.