Ambush review – battle fatigued Nam actioner fights worn-out war tropes

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Aaron Eckhart, the big-name stars of this on-the-cheap Vietnam-war actioner, are definitely on a cushy number here. They live it up above ground as, respectively, an elite tracker and a no-nonsense general, while poor old Connor Paolo has to scurry around in the Củ Chi tunnel system for most of the running time. Hopefully his contract demanded access to a chiropractor.

Paolo plays US army engineer Ackermann, sent with his fellow “construction workers” into the netherworld to retrieve a stolen classified binder containing the names of south Vietnamese operatives undercover in the north. He’s got two hours to dodge the punji stake traps and get the job done – at which point, unknown to him, Eckhart’s expedient Gen Drummond is planning to blow the entire complex and the sensitive intel along with it. Up top, Miller (Rhys Meyers) and other special forces goons are patrolling the forest to make sure the “tunnel rats” don’t get any nasty surprises.

Ambush must be taking place during the Vietcong annual picnic, because Rhys Meyers – who imports the bulk of the film’s cool and ruefulness – has little to do other than offer the “soulful veteran musings” element on the list of Nam cliches. Profanity-screaming superiors, wobbly greenhorn squad leaders, frazzled grunts entering the moral heart of darkness; it’s a bit sad that director Mark Burman needed two other writers to turn out this perfunctorily handled heap of metal-fatigued tropes.

Burman’s direction doesn’t help things either, flatly shooting the below-ground binder hunt in a way that makes it seem like the world’s longest episode of The Crystal Maze rather than a hellishly claustrophobic experience. The lack of perspective is summed up in an ending that, despite Ackermann’s suspicion he and his crew have been designated expendable, lets the brass get away with stock pieties: “Their blood is in the Earth. They will live for ever.” It’s both by the book and dispiritingly vague.

• Ambush is released on 6 March on digital platforms.