Sunday, December 04, 2022

Operation Seawolf, Starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Grillo

By Presidential order, there were two U.S. Navy ships with majority African American crews during WWII, so the submarine chaser depicted in this film is not the total historical gaffe you might assume. The mission it is trying to foil is completely fictional, but not because the German U-boat corps would have had any issues targeting civilians. They just never made it this far in real-life. Time is running out for the Axis, but a strike on New York City could turn the tide of the war in Steven Luke’s Operation Seawolf, which releases Tuesday on DVD.

Captain Hans Kessler is a disillusioned old school officer, but even with his heavy drinking, he is the best man available for the last-ditch mission. However, it is hard for his new first officer to see it that way. Lt. Reinhart was demoted, to make way for Kessler. He is supposed to lead a wolfpack of U-boats close enough to the City to launch a V2 rocket attack from their decks, once they surface.

Fortunately, Commander Race Ingram knows their coming, so he will deploy the Tenth Fleet to stop them. For the first time ever, Capt. Samuel Gravely’s ship, based on the USS Mason (DE-529) will be part of the hunt. Luke fudges the historical record a little with that last part, but plenty of WWII films have taken greater dramatic license.

Dolph Lundgren gets to show more dramatic range than usual as Kessler. Indeed, he is perfectly cast as the commanding but world-weary (and super-blond) officer. On the other hand, Frank Grillo is grossly underutilized as Ingram, who basically spends the entire film in the war room, reading coded messages and barking orders. It wouldn’t really make sense for his character to come face-to-face with Kessler, but it is still disappointing Grillo and Lundgren appear in the same film, but never share a scene together.

Hiram A. Murray is similarly confined to the bridge of his ship playing Capt. Gravely. He also carries himself with a convincing military bearing, which rather makes sense, since he is a Marine Corp veteran. However, the sequences aboard Gravely’s Destroyer do not look as realistic as those within Kessler’s U-boat, which were shot inside the decommissioned and preserved USS Cod.

Operation Seawolf is the Naval equivalent of Brandon Slagle’s recent Battle for Saipan. It is a low-budgeted but well-intentioned war film, featuring some interesting character actors and action movie veterans. Saipan works better, because it relies on hand-to-hand warfighting rather than Run Silent Run Deep-style submarine warfare.

Slagle’s film placed greater emphasis on the heroism of the American soldiers, whereas Luke focuses more on the war’s corrupting and debilitating impact on the German crew. However,
Seawolf further reflects Luke’s interest in the Black American veteran experience, following his passable WWI Buffalo Soldier film, The Great War. Saipan is a better war movie, but Seawolf is still more interesting than the average VOD release. Mostly recommended for Lundgren fans (earning something like two-and-three-quarters stars out of five), Operation Seawolf releases Tuesday (12/6) on DVD and BluRay.