Lionsgate // 1991 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 6th, 2010
The only thing they can count on is each other.
"Fighter pukes make movies. Bomber pilots make HISTORY!"
Lt. Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton (Brad Johnson, Left Behind) is an embittered bomber pilot attempting to cope with the recent death of his co-pilot. The year is 1972, and the Vietnam War is still raging on after 7 long years. Grafton is frustrated by the seeming pointlessness of his missions; too many of his targets turn out to be little more than empty patches of jungle. Wanting to actually do some damage and make a difference in the war, Grafton plots to fly his A-6 Intruder to the north and hit some vital but very well-protected targets. To accomplish this he recruits the help of Lt. Cmdr. Virgil "Tiger" Cole (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man), a hotshot pilot who's been on more than his share of dangerous missions. Can the pair pull off this crazy plan? Even if they do, they'll almost certainly face a court-martial in front of their stern Commander Frank Camparelli (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon).
Flight of the Intruder is an old-fashioned, red-blooded war film, a guts n' glory actioner that looks with unwavering pride at the heroic actions of its masculine heroes. It fuses the patriotic fervor of a John Wayne war flick with a clear affection for Tony Scott's Top Gun. Particularly odd that it would apply such techniques to a movie about the Vietnam War, a conflict that has traditionally been portrayed as either horrific or extremely horrific. Coming not too long after such films as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, the jingoistic nature of Flight of the Intruder rubbed many the wrong way. While I don't find the movie as morally reprehensible as something like Wayne's The Green Berets (for one thing, this film is far more honest about the war than that one), it certainly seems more than a bit misguided in terms of tone.
The film more or less tanked the career of director John Milius, partially because Milus had such a miserable time making the film due his conflicts with the folks at Paramount Studios (Milus has worked on a number of projects in the 20 years or so since, but Flight of the Intruder was the last theatrical release he helmed as of the writing of this review). Sadly, the film is also more or less responsible for tanking the career of the late composer Basil Poledouris, who declined the opportunity to score Dances With Wolves in order to score Flight of the Intruder due his longtime friendship with Milius (a painful decision in retrospect, as Flight of the Intruder was universally panned and Dances With Wolves won loads of Oscars...including Best Original Score). As a result, Poledouris was unable to get scoring assignments at any studio producing a Costner film in the years that followed.
The movie was also intended to turn actor Brad Johnson into a star, though it failed spectacularly at that task. Johnson got his big break in Steven Spielberg's Always, where he played a crucial supporting role. The part of Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton probably seemed like a plum role on paper, the sort of part that launched Tom Cruise to megastardom in Top Gun. Unfortunately, Flight of the Intruder is no Top Gun and Johnson is no Cruise. It's an incredibly bland performance that essentially makes the film's central character a cardboard cutout. That's too bad, because the role is one that really demands passion and feeling. We never believe for a moment that Grafton is really distraught over the loss of his friend, or that he really has any particularly strong feelings of any sort for that matter. That Johnson bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Berenger is kind of distracting, not helped by the fact that Berenger has a better screen presence.
For some reason, Danny Glover was given first billing, despite the fact that he has considerably less screen time than either Johnson or Dafoe. I assume this is because Glover was at the height of his star power at the time and was presumably the biggest draw for the average audience member. Unfortunately, he's saddled with a very poorly-defined character that never quite seems to gel. Glover shouts through most of his scenes, delivering intense tirades at his men. Half the time he is doing so in a winking, good-natured manner. Half the time he's dead-serious. The problem is that it's often difficult to figure out which is which, leading to a number of scenes that just feel flat-out off.
There's a romantic subplot involving Johnson and Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction), which is touching early on but which just sort of disappears and is forgotten about as the film progresses. Supporting characters tend to come and go, sometimes because they die but usually because the movie just forgets about them. There are brief turns from the likes of Ving Rhames (Phantom Punch), David Schwimmer (Friends), Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers), and Fred Thompson (The Hunt for Red October), but none of them has anything terribly interesting to do. The only cast member that comes through fully intact is Willem Dafoe, who brings a slyly understated madness to his part and creates a genuinely believable character.
The film's action scenes are well-directed by Milius, who knows his way around carnage and chaos (this is the man who gave us Conan the Barbarian, after all). The early scenes are the most effective, generating just a little bit of excitement and remaining persuasive due to the thorough amount of research that was put into studying military weaponry and equipment. The later scenes are well-staged, but suffer from being agonizingly conventional and sometimes flat-out stupid (the last thirty minutes are so riddled with war movie clichés that the film just about becomes a satire of itself).
Flight of the Intruder soars onto hi-def with an only modestly satisfactory transfer, offering an acceptable but underwhelming image that I'm sort of hard-pressed to really praise. There's an awful lot of grain in the film and sometimes it gets pretty excessive. While I'm glad that the movie doesn't suffer from any artificial enhancements, the image isn't exactly a shining beacon of what Blu-ray can accomplish. Detail is only okay, as some shots seem pretty soft. Blacks are rich and deep, though black crush is a bit of an issue at times. Audio is fine, with the bold Poledourious score getting a very strong mix. Some of the dialogue sounds a little muffled at times, but the battle sequences have a lot of kick to them (you may find yourself having to adjust the speakers between these scenes and the quiet dialogue scenes, though). There are no extras on the disc.
Flight of the Intruder isn't as awful as its reputation suggests, but it's not exactly a worthwhile way to spend two hours, either. The bare-bones Blu-ray release gives me no reason to recommend an upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13