Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Come Out Fighting: The 761st Tank Battalion in Germany

Gen. George S. Patton was not exactly woke, but he was generally well-remembered by the black soldiers of the 761st Tank Battalion who served under him. For most of the film, the so-called “Black Panthers” will be on their own, behind enemy lines. That wouldn’t be so bad, given the hostility of some of their fellow soldiers, were it not for the crazy German officer setting ambushes for them. However, a downed American pilot will be happy to tag a ride with them in Steven Luke’s Come Out Fighting, which releases Friday in theaters and on-demand.

Maj. Chase Anderson is the kind of commanding officer Lt. Robert Hayes can respect. Obviously, Anderson is cool, because he is played by Dolph Lundgren. Unfortunately, the captain between them is a racist trying to blame Hayes for his mistake. The captain is also an incompetent, who gets his convoy back to HQ hopelessly lost and quickly ambushed by the unhinged Captain Hans Schultz.

Hayes is the only survivor, trying to cross back over enemy lines by himself, until Lt. Frank Ross blunders into him. Ross survived a dogfight with the Luftwaffe’s newly redesigned fighter plane, so top brass would like to debrief him. That is how Maj. Anderson convinces Gen. Patton to sign off on the previously unsanctioned rescue mission Hayes’ sergeant, Sgt. A.J. “Red” McCarron was planning, with the help of Black Panthers tanker Sgt. Warren Crecy. Hayes’s platoon and the 761
st are still largely on their own, but they are highly motivated.

Come Out Fighting does not feature the most famous 761st veteran, Jackie Robinson (or it’s the briefest of name-checks that you could easily miss). Regardless, the gritty, fatalistic attitude of most of the troops rings pretty true. However, there is the big credibility issue when it basically lets McCarron and Crecy get away with “taking their own initiative.” Chain of command is critically important. They do not take too kindly to it if the generals want your men one place, but you decide to move them someplace else, but hey, it’s a movie.

It also seems like the Germans never had a chance, since we have Michael Jai White and Lundgren in uniform. White definitely looks and acts like a leathery tough NCO. Lundgren is suitably commanding as Anderson, continuing to gracefully transition into less physical, but still ultra-manly action-support roles.

The bickering between Hiram A. Murray and Kellan Lutz as Hayes and Ross does not make much sense, considering there is a war going on, but Luke has the good sense to cut it short. On the other hand, Tyrese Gibson is surprisingly hard-bitten and convincingly battle-scarred as Crecy. He still in the action genre, broadly defined, but it is some legit screen-work.

Had Luke’s screenplay not stretched believability to such an extent,
Come Out Fighting might have been the best of his recent films exploring the American warfighting experience, above The Great War and Operation Seawolf. It is well-intentioned and the grunt-level perspective is compelling, but there are parts that veterans will frankly find silly. Luke’s film is also notable for its sympathetic presentation of Patton (even though Gary David Keast is no George C. Scott, but who is?). Recommended for fans of White, Lundgren, and Gibson, Come Out Fighting releases this Friday (5/19).