Friday, June 30, 2023

Called to Duty: Navy and Air Force, Flying Together

These Naval aviators are quite surprised to be training at an Airforce facility. My late father, a former Naval aviator, might be turning over in his grave at the very suggestion. This flight of Navy officers is particularly uncomfortable there, because they happen to be the Navy’s team of women air-show demonstration pilots. However, desperate times call for unorthodox measures and a North Korea-like rogue state’s nuclear testing absolutely qualifies as a crisis in Ashley L. Gibson’s Called to Duty, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

The “Wing Girls” are inspired by the WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), but they are Navy instead of Air Force. Even though they are fulltime active-duty, they are only supposed to make exhibition flights and not perform combat operations. That is how their leader, Kaden “Country” Riebach reconciles her service with her Christian faith. She really takes the “thou shalt not kill” part seriously.

Serving with cocky male pilots like Jeter “Ego” Ulter really tests her Christian charity. Say what you will, but Ego has one of the most believable call signs of any military aviation movie. He is also a jerk and Margo “Edge” Lee is not about to let his sexist cracks slide. In fact, she is always spoiling for a fight. Yet, the Wing Girls, Ulter, and several top Airforce pilots will have to work together to pull off a strike on “North Kiyoung’s” nuclear program. There are a lot of misgivings regarding the Wing Girls’ involvement, including from Country, but the DOD is convinced they are only pilots agile enough to evade the North Kiyoung anti-air defenses.

Between its feminism and some characters’ Evangelical Christianity, there is something in
Called to Duty to alienate either side of the social spectrum—which we should respect it for. Gibson and screenwriter Bobby Hammel never make things too easy for the Wing Girls. Arguably, the messiness of their climactic mission is much more realistic than the Top Gun films. However, it totally sacrifices authenticity with the frequency with which major characters disregard orders. That just doesn’t fly in any branch of the service. (In contrast, the “S.O.S.” episode of Quantum Leap did a good job establishing the significance of chain-of-command in military service.)

Despite these credibility issues,
Called to Duty is refreshingly patriotic. It is no accident it is releasing right before the 4th of July. Clearly, the filmmakers had a lot of sympathy for military personnel and their families. Nevertheless, it is pretty weak of Hammel to create aliases for North Korea, China, and Cuba. The truth is most of the potential audience for Called to Duty would love to see a successful mission against any of those three terrorist-sponsoring countries, so why not give it to us?

Throughout it all, Susannah Jane (as Country) and Cabrina Collesides (as Edge) keep the audience rooting for the Wing Girls. Stephen Mevidick also does a nice job making Ego thoroughly obnoxious and then humanizing him to a surprising extent.

It is nice to see some support for the American military in some new films. The effects and the action sequences in
Warhorse One are far superior, but Called to Duty has its heart in the right place, reminding us of the sacrifices our uniformed men and women have had to make on our behalf. Called to Duty might satisfy Airforce boosters, but anyone Navy-related will unflatteringly compare it to Top Gun: Maverick, when it releases tomorrow (7/1) on VOD.