Universal // 1986 // 1117 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 1st, 2011
The Soviets are laughing at you.
When I revisited Airwolf a few years back on DVD I was surprised by how much cooler it was than I remembered. With Season 4, I am surprised by how much more pathetic it is than I remembered.
Big stuff happens in the season premiere: Stringfellow Hawke is severely injured; fake Dom Santini is blown up; Archangel disappears off the face of the earth and St. John Hawke (Barry Van Dyke, Diagnosis Murder), String's presumed MIA Vietnam vet brother, shows up to reveal he was always working undercover for the government or something; thus rendering the central conceit of everything that came before moot.
A new team is assembled behind St. John, consisting of some extraordinarily boring people. Then they go on various death-defying adventures requiring the use of supersonic helicopter, Airwolf. One problem: the producers lost the rights to filming the actual chopper. So, you know, good luck with all that.
CBS bid farewell to the series after Season Three, so it got scooped up by the USA network with a fraction of the budget and a bunch of stiffs pretending to fly an imaginary helicopter and -- stunner! -- it's terrible.
There is nothing salvageable at all about Airwolf's fourth season. For a few minutes you can siphon some mirth out of pointing and laughing at the ineptitude of what's transpiring on your screen, but even those few molecules of entertainment are eventually swallowed up by the pervasive awfulness.
Start with the biggie: the total lack of helicopter action. Sure, that's not exactly true, because there are technically scenes of Airwolf flying around, but with no access to the helicopter, the producers were forced to work around using two methods: 1) recycling past Airwolf footage, and 2) employing proto-CGI. And I'm not sure which is worse. As Season 4 is shot on lousy video stock, when the re-used bits pop up the vintage film stock completely clashes. Also, the pull-back shots of Airwolf zipping around doing airborne shenanigans rarely fit with the setting of the real-time story. Our heroes may be prancing about in a forest and here comes Airwolf...in a desert!
Then, when the script absolutely, positively calls for a new scene with Airwolf, we get a laughably rendered special effect that looks sort of look like a helicopter if you squint and rub wasabi in your eyes.
Not that having the helicopter would make up for the story-centric dumbness. None of the new faces bring anything interesting and the storylines range from tedious (Mike takes some troubled teens out on a camping trip! Like in every hourlong action show from the '80s!) to ridiculous (the gang battles a megalomaniacal madman trying to blow up a freighter of atomic weapons who turns out to be an android?!).
The good news? You'll have 24 episodes of this to enjoy. Well, it's good news if you hate your life and/or you're a bitter ex-KGB agent who's always nursed a grudge against the previous seasons of Airwolf for presenting Soviets in such a poor light and has longed for the day for the show to unequivocally embarrass itself.
Universal's five-disc set is an afterthought: a full-frame transfer that captures the awfulness of the video quality, 2.0 stereo and no extras.
A once-proud, communist-punching television series is reduced to a pitiful, shambling, partially-reanimated corpse of its former self.
Guilty on all counts and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole
at the Army surplus store.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1117 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated