Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Drop Zone

Image result for drop zone 1994Pete Nessip (Wesley Snipes (Demolition Man)) and his brother Terry (Malcolm-Jamal Warner (American Horror Story)) are escorting a computer hacker (Michael Jeter (Waterworld)) that worked for the mob, or something, via commercial airliner.  While they’re cruising bad guy Ty Moncrief (Gary Busey (Predator 2)) (what a fuckin’ name by the way) and his gang of assholes take the plane over, nab the prisoner and skydive the hell out of there.  The situation would’ve been bad enough for Pete to obsess over and go rogue ‘n shit until he gets his man but Terry gets killed in the process so now it’s personal.

This movie guides us through the undiscovered/under-recognized/mysterious world of skydiving.  And what a vast world they have too, I mean skydivers have their own bars, language, attitude and even look.  Like right before Nessip is about to walk into a sky bar he’s warned he’ll stick out like a sore thumb and stir up trouble.  Sure enough Nessip isn’t in there one minute when some brawny ass dudes in matching track suits confront him.  They pick him up and throw him over the bar, but don’t worry he fights them off by kicking one of them in the balls.

The whole betcha-didn’t-know-skydivers-were-way-cool-tough-as-nails-outcasts kinda vibe is fun and sorta interesting.  This idea of highlighting a very specific culture and promoting their badass-ness is done from time to time and sometimes it works (surfers with Point Break), sometimes it doesn’t (break dancing with Breakin’ (although I do kinda like that movie)) and sometimes I don’t quite know what to feel (arm wrestling with Over the Top).  So they’re saying skydivers, like so many others, are a misunderstood people that just wanna do their own thang and not be hassled by the man.  Sure I guess so.

Image result for drop zone 1994 gary buseyAnd to the film’s credit they stick to the skydiving angle to the bitter end.  We see a lot of jumps, a lot of non-skydiving parachute use (like BASE jumping and sneakily deploying someone else’s chute on the ground to fuck with ‘em), a lot of nifty freefalling stunt work and so on.  So while I would definitely classify this as an action picture there isn’t a ton of traditional action oriented stuff because most of the thrilling scenes involve people falling rapidly towards Earth.  It seems you can’t do a whole lot else while that’s happening.

Snipes is his usual very confident self but just insecure enough to get you in his corner which is always engaging to watch.  The woman who he teams up with, Yancy Butler (Hard Target, Kick-Ass), is the best damn skydiver there is so naturally you’d expect them to get together.  But they don’t.  Strangely it’s not even hinted at that they’re into each other which is really odd.

Image result for drop zone 1994 yancy butlerSo is there something more going on here?  Of course not every action movie has their male and female leads hook up but after thinking about it for a minute I realized that Virtuosity and Eraser are two other 90’s ones with interracial casting that don’t have the romance aspect.  Maybe I’m reading into it too much but it seems like at that time Hollywood thought we weren’t ready to have two people from different races become involved with each other in our action films.  That’s some serious bullshit Hollywood.

In the end this is only an ok picture which is weird considering on paper it hits all the notes you’d want like a cop playing by his own rules, a villain who kills one of his own henchmen to tie up a loose end, a flashy gimmick that’s used to its full extent, a prison break at 30,000 feet, a wailing melodic electric guitar soundtrack, clearly shot action sequences, etc.  Yet the whole thing feels a bit dull and it’s a little hard to pinpoint why.  I dunno I always felt there was a B movie quality to this one but that doesn’t make any sense.  It was totally an A picture when it came out and Snipes and Busey were still fairly popular.  The answer could be unremarkable cinematography choices by Roy H. Wager who had shot and continues to shoot mostly TV.  Back in the 90’s TV wasn’t anywhere near as cinematic as it is today so making the leap to features was probably more difficult.

Image result for drop zone 1994
You thought I wasn't gonna put one single picture of
people skydiving in here, didn't you?
But of course the director had to sign off on everything and surprisingly John Badham who did fucking Saturday Night Fever directed this.  He actually turned into kind of an action guy during this time with Point of No Return, Nick of Time, this and a few others.  He wasn’t really the best at it or at least it didn’t feel like his heart was in the genre.  So that could explain a lot too.

Anyway if you’re looking for some serious 90’s shit (the extreme sports focus, Gary Busey in peak cocaine form where he claps his hands in almost every scene he’s in, Snipes sporting an all white suit with only a blue t-shirt underneath and round sunglasses, computer hacking, that human gyroscope thing where it twirls you in a million different directions, a bar fight and a bathroom fight in the same movie) then dropping into this zone wouldn’t be terrible.  You can find better zones to drop into though.

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