"Operation Dumbo Drop" takes good actors, fun stunts and a cute elephant and throws them into a Vietnam War that's too much like Disney World.
That's not to say there aren't laughs. And that's not to say there isn't excitement. It's just that "Dumbo Drop" tries to glue together an adult story line and a kid sensibility with cloying sentimentality and ends up not fulfilling any of its missions. Its sweetness, along with its lovely scenery, picturesque villages and its sense of jolly good fun, makes one forget that a very nasty war is supposed to be going on.
Danny Glover stars as Capt. Sam Cahill, who is stationed in a strategic Montagnard village in 1968. He's about to be replaced by humorless Capt. T. C. Doyle (Ray Liotta), a by-the-book jerk who can't understand why Cahill is so cozy with the mountain villagers.
While the soldiers are on a reconnaissance mission, the tiny community is invaded by the North Vietnamese, who court bad luck by shooting the villagers' elephant in retaliation for their support of the Americans. Cahill decides the elephant must be replaced so that the Americans can stay in the village's good graces. Thus, Operation Dumbo Drop, a cross-country mission to bring in a replacement elephant, is born. (Believe it or not, the plot was inspired by a true story.)
Cahill and Doyle acquire some help: the overwrought Doug E. Doug as H. A., who has only one week left in the service (in a non-Disney Vietnam movie, that would be the kiss of death), and Corin Nemec as a likable greenhorn farm boy who isn't good with animals. Cliche and near-cliche. Last and best is the wonderfully caustic Denis Leary as David Poole, a conniving supply officer.
But even the ever-sarcastic Leary ("The Ref") can't rescue this dopey movie from wallowing in sentimentality. The emotional focal point is the elephant's best friend, a boy whose parents were killed in the war (Dinh Le). The kid, who has a big chip on his shoulder, eventually has some touching interaction with Glover, but it's saccharine and obvious.
There's some welcome tension between Glover and Liotta, but when their "cursing" amounts to such phrases as "my eye!" and "in the name of Cahill!" the grown-ups in the audience will wonder whatever happened to "Platoon."
Meanwhile, the kids who are watching will be perplexed by a lot of what's happening, too. The war, confusing even to adults, is here simplified to a mostly benign video game with chase scenes -- its seriousness is implied, but gosh, isn't it cool how the artillery blows up the enemy boat from miles away! A recommendation: If your kid isn't old enough to read the occasional subtitles, he or she shouldn't be in the audience.
At one point, Liotta's character complains that he has ended up "in an episode of 'McHale's Navy.' " That's not too far off. If a sitcom is all you really want out of "Operation Dumbo Drop," by all means, put on a parachute and jump.
"Operation Dumbo Drop"
Starring Danny Glover, Ray Liotta and Denis Leary
Directed by Simon Wincer
Released by Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG (mild profanity, violence)