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Taking advantage of a break in George W.’s invasion schedule, Miramax has finally released Buffalo Soldiers, an unsubtle satire of the all-you-can-be U.S. Army. Completed two years ago, the film was repeatedly postponed lest it offend post-Sept. 11 sensibilities. Director and co-writer Gregor Jordan, working from Robert O’Connor’s 1993 novel, depicts the American troops stationed in West Germany in 1989 as dolts, lunatics, and criminals. We’re supposed to sympathize with the last class, as personified by supply clerk Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), a canny hustler in the tradition of similar characters from Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, not to mention Sgt. Bilko and Hogan’s Heroes. Ray’s a little rougher than his predecessors, though: He deals not only in black-market Mop & Glo, but also in heroin. And when two Army drivers happen to be incinerated in a little tank mishap, Ray appropriates their truckloads of missiles, machine guns, and grenade launchers and trades them for more drugs. Ray’s commanding officer, ineffectual Col. Berman (Ed Harris), will never catch him; Berman doesn’t even realize that his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) is dallying with the clerk. But then a crusading investigator, Sgt. Lee (Scott Glenn), arrives and begins hindering Ray’s operation. Ray decides to strike back by seducing Lee’s brash daughter, Robyn (Anna Paquin), only to realize he actually likes her. Of course, Ray and Robyn’s romance just intensifies Lee’s fury during the final showdown. With its smeary video look and a hammering late-’80s score that includes Public Enemy and New Order, Buffalo Soldiers sometimes swaggers like a military 24 Hour Party People. There’s even a good joke underlying the intramural conflict: The American troops who supposedly “defeated Communism” don’t even know the difference between East and West Germany. Despite its attempts at topical satire, however, the movie is essentially another Tarantino rip: Amiable small-time criminals collide with sociopathic thugs, and the pileup yields queasy chuckles, buckets of gore, and a tone that wavers ineptly between drama and farce. —Mark Jenkins