For many movie critics, Michael Bay, the director of the “Transformers” movies and “Pearl Harbor,” is Public Enemy No. 1 – the auteur you love to hate. I don’t quite go along with this assessment. He’s such a skillfully mindless moviemaker that I can’t really get too worked up about what he perpetrates. Hating him would be like hating a robot or a hologram. For all the crash-and-burn in his movies, they are, in the end, monumentally vapid.
Which brings me to “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” which is Bay’s attempt to not only move away from "Transformers" territory but also to inject some real-world grit into his shenanigans. It depicts the deadly 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which killed, among others, US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and on the secret CIA facility a mile away manned by “private security officers” intended to beef up what had already been deemed an inadequately secured position.
Bay and his screenwriter, Chuck Hogan, adapting the nonfiction bestseller “13 Hours,” by Mitchell Zuckoff and the members of the Annex Security Team, resolutely avoid any overt political inferences. Hillary Clinton's name is never uttered, and the owner of the blame for the sorry state of security is never specified. I’m not a fan of apolitical political movies, in part because it’s a sham position: To be apolitical about a subject like Benghazi is indeed to be political. (Previous candidates in this vein include “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper,” whose audience this film will no doubt mainline.)
On the other hand, did we really want to see a political movie by Michael Bay? (Folks, this is a rhetorical question.) He does well here what he always does well: He keeps the action at full throttle. This is also what he does so annoyingly: He always keeps things at full throttle. Or almost always – in a few sequences he slows things down so we can get teary family tableaux from the home front.
John Krasinski leads the beefcake corps as former Navy SEAL Jack Silva – he learns his wife is pregnant not long before the mortar shells go boom – and it’s impossible during the siege not to think of the Alamo, with Jack standing in for Davy Crockett. “13 Hours” is better than the “Transformers” movies and “Pearl Harbor” but, after seeing it, the only question I came away with is, Will this movie hurt Hillary Clinton? Grade: B- (Rated R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and language.)