Martin Sheen makes his directing debut with this military drama mixed with laughs. It isn’t awful — just bland, which is worse. Set on an army base in West Germany in the Sixties, the film stars Sheen as Sergeant Otis McKinney, a hard-ass combat vet in charge of the work-camp stockade. His new prisoner, the rebellious Private Franklin F. Bean — played by Charlie Sheen, the director’s son — is a real disciplinary challenge. To teach Bean a lesson, the racist McKinney throws him into a black barracks.
If you can’t see what’s coming, congratulations, you’ve missed a lot of bad movies. After some initial hostility, the defiant white boy and the black prisoners — headed by Larry Fishburne — find they are kindred spirits. Soon this soul patrol has Bean strutting along to Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.”
These condescending musical interludes are less disastrous than the march of “Cadence” into the deep waters of drama, where — weighted down with clichés — it promptly sinks. McKinney is an alcoholic estranged from his son and psychotically taking out his parental aggressions on Bean. The acting is serviceable, including that of Ramon Estevez (another son of Martin’s) as McKinney’s lackey. But Dennis Shryack’s script and Sheen’s direction are strictly formula. “Cadence” needed to march to a different drummer; it got standard issue instead.