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When a B-3 Stealth Bomber crashes in the Utah desert during a top-secret test run, the military quickly moves in to retrieve its two "broken arrows." But the situation spins wildly out of control after one of the pilots reveals the crash to be part of an incredible nuclear extortion plot.
John Travolta is Vic Deakins, a bomber pilot who launches a devilish plan to hijack two nuclear missiles for big-time extortion. Vic never sweats, spews out great one-liners, knocks off money men with glee, toys with killing half a million people... he even smokes!
If you giggled at his "Ain't it cool" line from the trailer, you're in the right frame of mind for this comedic action film. Never as gritty or semi-realistic--or for that matter as heart-thumping--as the original Die Hard, Broken Arrow still delivers. If Travolta is cast against type, everyone else is by the numbers; Christian Slater as Hale, the earnest copilot looking to foil the plot, Samantha Mathis as the brave park ranger caught in the middle, Frank Whaley as an eager diplomat, Delroy Lindo as a right-minded colonel. As with his previous script (the superior Speed), writer Graham Yost moves everything quickly along as Hale and the ranger try to cut off Deakins's plan over a variety of terrains. We have plane crashes, car chases, a pursuit through an abandoned mine, a helicopter-train shootout, and lots of fighting between boys. Each time Hale finds himself perfectly in place to foil Deakins. You're suppose to laugh at the unbelievable situations. That's where Arrow is deceptive: its tone is right for the laughter compared to the mean-spirited Schwarzenegger and Stallone action films with labored jokes. Hong Kong master director John Woo (The Killer, Hard Target) pulls out all the stops--slow motion of Hale and Deakins's gymnastic gun play, nifty stunts, countdowns to doomsday. Woo may know action, but he needs more guidance in creating unique and stunning special effects. This is action entertainment at its cheesiest. Travolta and Woo later reteamed for Face/Off. --Doug Thomas
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It's like this. USAF Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta) has made a habit of chiding fellow aviator Capt. Riley Hale (Slater) for always holding back too much. Conversely, Deakins all the time goes for the gusto. It's maybe why he hasn't made it to Colonel. He'd burned some bridges. Well, he's about to burn one more.
After a bruising sparring session in which Hale gets lit up by Deakins and loses a $20 bet to him, the two buddies are tasked with conducting a nighttime "simulated low-level border penetration" exercise over the Utah landscape, meaning they get to fly a B-3 stealth bomber carrying two nuclear warheads on board. Now I don't think it's spoilering anything - because the trailer gave it away back in 1996 - but somewhere during the flight, Deakins ambushes his best friend Hale and tries to kill him but settles for ejecting him from the stealth bomber. Deakins then jettisons the two nuclear bombs, but not before framing Hale as the big culprit. Friendship so over!
I guess you have to give it up to a bad guy who takes time and effort to put nice production values into his ransom videos. Deakins, in cahoots with a crime syndicate, demands his millions or else: "The Southwest will be a quiet neighborhood for about ten thousand years."
If nothing else, this movie is worth it for reuniting Slater and Samantha Mathis who rocked it so hard in Pump Up the Volume. Mathis plays the plucky Utah park ranger Terry Carmichael. She gets dragged into this mess courtesy of the dispatch operator's report about a convoy of suspicious trucks. What Terry finds instead is a stumbling Air Force captain fresh off the stealth bomber's wreckage. Terry's got her pistol out. Can Hale convince her he's not shady? He's gonna have to... talk hard.
Travolta is the clear star of the show. He struts around and hams it up mightily, and because it's Travolta, he gets away with it. Guy just exudes cool, and when he's playing a terrorist loon, he also exudes silky menace. Man, that predatory look he gave Slater just before he jumped him...
John Woo imposes his signature dramatic flair and, so, elevates this from the more generic action thrillers. The slo-mo balletic action beats. The poetic gunplay choreo. The prolonged stand-offs. The flash on this guy! Is it a case of style over substance for this movie? Probably. The story is essentially Slater and Travolta in a cat-and-mouse chase that encompasses the canyons and hills of the desolate Utah badlands. So, it's a travelogue, as well. This movie is far-fetched and mindless and anathema to airtight plotting. Travolta is cool as f--- but he falls victim to Villain-talks-too-much disease. How many times did he let Slater get away because he kept on yapping? Now, Slater, he has movies that happen to be enshrined in my personal hall of fame: Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, Kuffs, True Romance. He snags the stoic action hero role, which is the less sexy role, but he's better than serviceable. And, this time, as the closing credits drop, the authorities don't yank him away from Samantha Mathis.
Some things I learned from watching Broken Arrow:
- Don't shoot the thermonuclear weapons
- It's okay to plan on contingencies and keep initiative, but what you don't do is share command
- Utah has endangered dirt
- Being a lieutenant in the ROTC at Yale doesn't pull as much clout as you'd think
- The penalty is really steep for starting a camp fire at night in Utah
- When John Woo can't find any doves, butterflies will serve in a pinch
- Utah has endangered helicopters
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