Graciously gathering the last three or four decades of the most impersonal and forgettable Vietnam films into one wet beer-belch of counter-culture signifiers and don’t-tread-on-me rhetoric, Danny Mooney’s Love and Honor is clearly the product of a group of filmmakers who are utterly disinterested with war. Tomcat Pvt. Mickey Wright (Liam Hemsworth) and his high-strung best buddy, Pvt. Joiner (Austin Stowell), are barely in the jungles of South Vietnam for five minutes before they are ambushed and grab a med-evac helicopter out of the shit. Subsequently on leave for a week, Wright is primed for a walking tour of the brothels of Southeast Asia when Joiner announces he’s heading home to Michigan to confront his beloved, Jane (Aimee Teegarden), about her abrupt Dear John letter. It’s enough to trigger Wright’s easy camaraderie, and the duo head home.
Of course, the two are in for a rude awakening when they find themselves embedded with a cadre of leftists, all sufficiently tie-died and obnoxiously educated; Jane has bloomed into a flower child and re-named herself Juniper. Mooney delineates the patriots from the turncoats early, as our boys are welcomed by being branded “baby killers” by town folk and getting snottily condescended to by bespectacled college boy Peter (Chris Lowell), Juniper’s housemate. Ironic, then, that Wright and Joiner quickly mask themselves as peacenik deserters, causing Juniper to second-guess her split with Joiner and her friend, Candace (Teresa Palmer), to take an interest in Wright despite a tangential romance with Peter.
The desertion plot teases a certain complexity that rarely gets attention in pop art, the horrors of Leavenworth and the true alienation of being labeled a deserter. Much like Wright and Joiner, however, Mooney is only passingly interested in these grave matters and merely utilizes this element of the story to allow for the broad caricatures of Jim Burnstein and Garrett K. Schiff’s script to gleefully wander through a poor approximation of ’60s Americana. It’s less important that a Black Panther is making an impassioned speech than it is that Wright saves him from being beaten, and Joiner’s bad trip, courtesy of his first joint, would make the producers of Reefer Madness blush. It’s nice to hear “Magic Carpet Ride” again, but the inclusion of Band of Horses and other modern rock outfits in the mix speaks to the director’s rampant apathy towards the material.
The film is little more than a counterfeit Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but not even Sparks has indulged so freely in this risible brand of anti-intellectualism as patriotism. Peter betrays Wright, Joiner and the rest of his friends to print the names of the fake deserters in an anti-war piece for the local leftist paper, while Wright just yearns for a good hamburger and maybe some splendor in the grass with Candace. In these moments, Mooney glides across the surface of the 1960s but his ultimate interest is in Vietnam’s utility as popular conflict for cathartic romance. It renders both sides into blank agents of rhetoric, and not even the passable charms of the cast can make this out-and-out ordeal feel like anything but a passive-aggressive ploy.