The Redeeming Value of Hooch Movies

movie room navy
After a movie is released in theaters but prior to DVD release, the military receives movies on 8-mm that service members can watch on their off-time when they are on deployment. A lot of my deployments in the E-6b community were spent at Travis Air Force base in California at a guarded alert facility, a beige, cube, surrounded by barbed wire fence and men with guns. We called it “The Hooch.” A lot of our time at the hooch was spent watching “Hooch Movies.” Hooch movies aren’t Academy Award winning films or anything that could possibly be construed as “art.” Hooch movies are pure escapism, designed for those who seek entertainment without having to think too hard. They are usually comedic in nature, vulgar, critically panned, and lack a modicum of propriety.

On our off-days, we spent some of that time studying or training, but most of that time watching Hooch Movies. The movie room had rows of leather recliners with a projection screen and a binder full of movie titles at the front. A separate sheet was printed for any of the newly released titles, which were either movies that had just been theatrically released, or older titles that some minion in the Department of Defense, at long last, deemed appropriate for the service members to watch. We usually chose a newer title. Something not too artsy farts, that most people hadn’t watched yet, or rather, one of those select titles that were watched as if on a loop, as if watching it enough times we would somehow garner new meaning from the title. At the training squadron, VQ-7, I remember my flight instructor, Shane, telling me about Hooch Movies. My classmates and I often tried to get Shane to tell “Sea Stories” instead of the lesson plan of the day. Most times, it worked. One of those Sea Stories he told me while sipping on a Big Gulp of a a syrupy, caffeinated beverage, partaking in his ever-present habit of zipping the zipper of his flight suit from neck to chest level and back again, telling us how he watched the movie “Napolean Dynamite” so many times on deployment that he had lost track of the exact number, but knew the exact feeling the movie had imbued in him.

“I swear to god,” Shane said, a thousand-yard stare in his eyes. “If I watch that movie again, I’m going to throw up.” My classmates and I nodded solemnly.

When I checked into my squadron, “Step Brothers,” starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, was one of these informally designated hooch movies, staying in vogue for at least the first six months of my time there. That was followed by “Sex Drive,” a 2008 movie about a high school senior who drives cross-country to christen the relationship he has been having with his online girlfriend. This movie was one or two years old by the time I saw it—ancient in Hooch Movie years—but proved to be timeless to the tastes of 20-something year old men with time to kill. I went into the movie thinking I would hate it, and, indeed, it’s not the best movie, but I did laugh, which, by the standards of a Hooch Movie, meant it was a success.

Some Hooch Movies have real world consequences. On a spring day in 2010 I was flown out to California to support a flight crew for an upcoming exercises in which a four-day nuclear escalation is compacted down to eight hours. When I entered the hooch, I was greeted by two other NFOs in my squadron, Queen and Rufio, who had just finished watching “She’s Out of My League” for the first time. The movie had just been released on 8-millimeter and I hadn’t seen it yet. They looked at each other. They looked at each other. Their eyes lit up. They looked at me.

“You’re a Moodle,” they said in unison.

“What’s a Moodle?” I asked.

They sat me down and watched the movie with me. “She’s Out of my League” is a 2010 comedy starring Jay Baruchel, as Kirk, and Alice Eve, as Molly. The movie has a feel of many American comedies from the 90’s, with its blend of slapstick and vulgarity, and its pairing of an insecure man and a beautiful, put-together woman who would never go for a guy like him, but does because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie. She’s out of his league, clearly. Queen and Rufio clearly had opinions about my personality to associate such a movie with me, or had finally found the correct pejorative that would suffice as my Call Sign.

Kirk is skinny, insecure TSA officer who is still in love with his ex-girlfriend, who cuckolded him. Molly is British, voluptuous, and a former lawyer-turned event planner that Kirk will eventually start dating. Before he starts doing so, however, at work one day Kirk’s friends diagnose the cause of his many dating problems:

Jack: Do you know what your problem is, Kirk?

Kirk: What?

Jack: You’re a Moodle

Kirk: a Moodle?

Jack: A Man Poodle. Girls, they wanna take you out on a walk. They

wanna feed you, they wanna cuddle you, but make no mistakes, no girl

wants to do the Moodle.

Stainer: No one would ever fuck a Moodle.

Kirk and Molly begin to date, and throughout Kirk’s courtship of Molly, Kirk is insecure, fearing that he isn’t good enough for Molly. As a Moodle, he fears that Molly is too perfect for him. The problem isn’t whether Molly thinks Kirk is a Moodle, it’s that he thinks he is. At the end of the movie, Kirk is about to return to the arms of his ex-girlfriend when his friend Stainer tells Kirk that he’s not a Moodle, that he’s actually a “10,” after which Kirk finds Molly again, and they live happily ever after, or at least until the end of the credits, at which point Queen turned on the lights, and they both looked at me expectantly.

“Assholes,” I muttered.

From then on I was the Moodle. The call sign stuck. The Skipper would call me “Moodle” when he had important business to discuss with me, which gives credence to both the roll that Call signs play in Naval Aviation as it does the power of Hooch Movies.

One time, it was my turn to choose a movie, and I chose a movie I knew I would elicit a decent amount of mockery. But it was a movie that I had seen before, enjoyed, and wanted other people to enjoy as well. It didn’t fit the mold of mindless entertainment or bad comedy. The movie was “Let Me In,” a 2010 American remake of “Let the Right One in,” a 2008 Swedish movie about a young boy who befriends a young girl, who is actually a vampire. It stars Richard Jenkins and Chloe Grace Moretz. It sounds stupid; it’s not. It has a slow cadence with brooding undertones, gradually ratcheting up the tensions until the inevitable, creepy conclusion. The movie is a slow burn, and contained the kind of odd beats that made a room full of guys uncomfortable, like the many scenes between the boy and the girl who is actually a several hundred year old vampire.

“This is a weird movie, Moodle” one of the guys called out during such a scene.

“Yeah, why are we watching this again?” another guy asked.

“Ruining the momentum here, guys,” I said. They grumbled but otherwise stayed silent. A few of them walked out before the movie ended. When the lights came up, the remaining viewers didn’t have a glowing review of the movie.

But the next day during one of our ten- hour flights, as I sat back in Comm, monitoring message traffic, one of the Pilots came back to ask us how things were going. It was going. He reached into the side cabinet that held was filled with candy and grabbed a handful. He ate some of it while he stood there leaning against the wall.

“You know, Moodle,” he said to me, chomping down on the candy. “I’ve been thinking about that movie last night.”

“Oh yeah?” I said, briefly taking my eyes from the computer screen in front of me.

“It was weird, but…” he said, pausing to gather his thoughts. “It was weird,” he repeated, “But it was fucking good, too, you know?”

I nodded. I knew.

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