This film from the mid 90s proves two things beyond reasonable doubt:
1/ John Woo never managed to convert his style effectively in English language films. Face/Off came very close but everything else basically sucked.
2/ What the hell were we thinking casting John Travolta as one of the cool cats of the decade?
In the hideously middling Broken Arrow two ace US Air Force pilots move hither and yon across the desert expanses of the United States, pausing only to (frequently) deliver dopey dialogue and to fire thousands of rounds at each other from point blank range without as much as a scratch.
Travolta is Deakin, who has ‘tr(e)volt’ed’ from the US Air Force due to the lure of a big payday, which we the audience could sense early when he narrowed his eyes at his younger partner Hale (Christian Slater). This is after a sparring session opens the film that pretty much lays down how the final minutes are going to run. There are a million hard punches, no mouthguards, no blood and a running commentary where Deakin belittles Hale unmercifully by telling him he hasn’t got the guts to deliver a finishing blow.
So we already know how this will end don’t we?
Shortly afterward Deakin hijacks his own plane, a multi-billion dollar Stealth bomber on a test run with like nukes aboard to ‘see if it shows on radar’… ummm, why not just paint fakies or disarm the nukes?
No matter, in disturbingly easy fashion Deakin takes down the plane and leaves Hale for dead in the desert. Leaving just him, his nefarious business associates and the two live nukes that he plans to sell to them.
Understandably the Air Force is a little perturbed, Delroy Lindo plays Wilkins, the leader of mission control who has the unenviable task of advising the high-ups that their stupid ass sure to backfire mission has backfired. They call upon Frank Whaley, who basically plays the John Cusack from Con Air role, albeit with wavier hair…
… and of course Hale isn’t toasted just yet – his mug is on the poster after all – he teams with ‘sassy’ park ranger Terry (Samantha Mathis) to chase the constantly jabbering Deakin through the desert while the army fumble about in their wake like morons.
There is a running convo between the two ex-partners about how they will stop each other, lots of nearly getting exploded and way too much squinting and meaningful looks. (Also, did you know you can outrun a nuclear explosion on foot in under 4 minutes? John Woo says you can!)
Being a John Woo film even when he is coasting the action scenes crackle at least a little, but for every semi-OK bit there are two quease inducing moments – usually starting with Travolta strutting his way into frame like a peacock, overacting like the kid in a school play whose parents have shown for the first time. Between this, Battlefield Earth, Wild Hogs and Swordfish it is becoming increasingly clear that his effort in Pulp Fiction was a fluke. I mean think about it, a guy with a ponytail who wears a black suit all day every day and talks as much crap as he does in that film? His career should be thanking Tarantino for surrounding him with dozens of other characters to distract us from him.
But when you are one of two leads in a mediocre action film there is no hiding, especially when your director has a total boner for you and makes the film 25 minutes longer by having your every appearance in slo-mo.
Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. Broken Arrow is merely another misguided braindead 90s action film. It isn’t the worst but that doesn’t make it even a little worthwhile. Now a couple days on from watching it I can think of no reason to check it out, nor a single feature that even partially redeems it.
Disclosure: For about 7 minutes in the late 90s I smoked (in reality it might have been a two or three party phase). But for those two or three parties I was dumb enough to smoke like Travolta does in this film with the cigarette held way too close to the hand, instead of dangling near the fingernails where it belongs.
Memo to kids today: Don’t smoke. But if you must, don’t hold your cigarette like that. It was dumb then and even dumber in hindsight.