Broken Arrow (1996)
Director: John Woo Starring: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Bob Gunton, Howie Long
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 104 Minutes
Tagline: “Prepare to Go Ballistic”
It was in 1994 that a little film called Pulp Fiction reminded the world that John Travolta exists. After over a decade in the relative wilderness, thanks to QT, he was finally ‘cool’ again. At this point, of course, the fickle movie business decided he was once again ‘hot property’ and inevitably, there soon followed a glut of films starring him. Some, of course, were utter nonsense, apparently made purely to have something out there with his name attached. Some others were actually pretty good. Which was Broken Arrow?
The plot is straight out of the 80’s. Major Vic ‘Deak’ Deakins (Travolta) is a veteran pilot who’s been passed over for promotions once too often. Captain Riley Hale (Slater) is his upstart, younger protege. During a flight designed to test their Stealth Bombers effectiveness while carrying live nuclear warheads, the former, apparently tired of his boring life of flying multi-billion dollar aircraft, decides things would be more exciting if he stole the warheads! Well, he must’ve decided that some time in advance, actually, since he seems to have a whole elaborate plan already set and ready, assisted by various, equally bored mercenaries and paranoid financier, Pritchett (Gunton).
Evading execution and escaping during the intentional crashing of the bomber, Hale soon enlists the help of an initially hostile park ranger called Terry (Mathis), on patrol in the Utah park (desert) in which the bomber crashed. Together, they try their hardest to pursue Deak and his happy band of enthusiastic helpers, and thwart his twisted plan of holding the country to ransom. Of course, it’s not long before they discover this and subsequently direct their malevolent fervour towards our heroes. Back at the Air Force base, Colonel Wilkins (Lindo) and a worried group of military leaders and politicians try to do the same thing, though far less effectively as you might guess!
Despite being a legend in his native China, John Woo’s Hollywood output has been decidedly patchy. Whilst Broken Arrow is far from his worst effort over here, it’s clear that someone has just hired him for a project. Any project. With him in the bag, who better than the at-the-time-hot-again Travolta to star? Then, around these two, a film was crudely constructed. I can imagine it now… Studio Fatcats: “Hey, Woo is directing and Travolta starring, it’s bound to be awesome!”… Of course, it may not have been like this but it seems like it when watching it!
That’s not to say it’s a bad film, it’s just that if they’d put as much enthusiasm into the rest of the film as they apparently did in recruiting the two main men, it could’ve been awesome. Travolta’s performance is adequate, although he spends a lot of his time exaggerating every angry scowl and grimace he can, but plays the part of the maniacal bad guy as well as you might expect. Slater pretty much plays it straight throughout. He never really looks like he’s having much fun, but I suppose his character wouldn’t be either, what with all and sundry trying to off him! The far-from-unappealing Mathis is nice enough whilst never really doing a great deal. Other characters are merely functional rather than memorable, although Gunton’s constant whining is hilariously silenced by ‘Deak’ midway though the film.
I guess I’ve made the film seem terrible so far but it’s really not! It’s perfectly watchable in its own check-your-brain-at-the-door kind of way. It’s certainly reminiscent of the 80’s popcorn action flicks that were so common then, what with its strutting bad guy, big explosions, helicoptors, etc, and is reasonably entertaining stuff if you don’t go in expecting too much. Plus, any film featuring nuclear bombs is at least a little intriguing!
RKS Score: 6/10