Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
John Milius is a great storyteller who has his own warrior's perspective on everything historical.
With a gun-bug bigger than the NRA, he's produced and directed some good entertainments and
some simply awful ones. The Wind and the Lion is a superb action adventure where his politics
side with the lone 'terrorist' Berber pirate. His good take on gangland history is overwhelmed by
repetitive gun battles in the exploitative Dillinger. While providing basic scripts for
filmmakers ranging from John Huston to Francis Coppola, he was dunned as a right-wing fanatic for
Red Dawn, a film with a throwback concept to
Invasion U.S.A. that he says was distorted
by his producers.
Milius can be 100% dreadful (Big Wednesday), and simply overbaked and pompous (Farewell
to the King), but 1991's
Flight of the Intruder was perfect material for him - an old-fashioned war movie about
honor between fighting men. It's a well-directed and lavishly produced combat picture, but the
fresh realism is nullified by script clichés that stretch back to silent pictures. Still, for
a 90s combat picture, it's way ahead of lame turkeys like Navy Seals.
Hot-Shot A-6 pilot Jake Grafton (Brad Johnson) loses his bombardier while knocking out
SAM missiles over North Vietnam, and goes to Subic bay for R&R, where he meets pilot's widow Callie
(Rosanna Arquette) and his new right hand man, Virgil Cole (Willem Dafoe). Cole is a third-tour man
who loves blowing up SAM missile sites, and together they cook up a completely illegal and near-suicidal
mission: hitting a SAM missile facility in the middle of Hanoi, an off-limits target.
John Ford's Wings of Eagles is about Spig Wead, a Navy flier and writer in the 20s who
turned out lots of formulaic 'service films'. In them, actors like Wallace Beery brawled and boozed, but showed themselves to be true-blue
patriots when it came time to pull off that big rescue/major battle, and win the girl. 1
The Paramount brass probably saw this as a chance to replay their 'MTV music video' combat success
Top Gun, but the script of
Flight of the Intruder follows the old Spig Wead formula. Our hero takes his job personally,
goes on an R&R where he brawls and beds a comely wench, and then sticks his neck out for his
personal war. Naturally, instead of being hung from the yardarm for this outrage, he instead gets
to prove himself
in a gung-ho mission, and rescues none other than his own commanding officer.
The acting is mostly superior to the task. Danny Glover gives his tough-guy commander
role far more credibility than it deserves. Willem Dafoe and Brad Johnson are interesting and
believable as naval aviators 2
and are almost able to make the idea of flying a personal bombing mission into an enemy
capital (eyeroll here) credible.
There's a place for old-fashioned rah-rah recruiting-type war movies, and Flight of the
Intruder gets points for not being one of the kind that pretends that killing is like a big
video game, and that the world can be divided neatly into Our Boys in Uniform, and foreign targets.
But it still suffers for bogging itself down in Vietnam politics. Our trigger happy heroes only
hit legitimate military targets, see. Their secret mission precipitates wholesale bombing of
the North by Richard Nixon, and their suppression of SAM missiles is to allow our B-52s to carpet-bomb
freely without being disturbed.
Just as Buster Keaton asserted that there was no way to make a Civil War movie with the South being
the bad guys, Savant believes there's no way to make a movie about bombing missions where the bombers
are the good guys. As with most post-Vietnam movies (Apocalypse Now did not start a trend),
the logic here is that underdogs defending their country by shooting down attacking planes
are war criminals. When his bombardier is killed by a wild rifle shot from below (shades
of 1941, here!), that's all the justification our pilot hero needs to go bomb the
bejeesus out of something. And such a clear target, those acres of missiles in the middle of Hanoi -
I was told that Communist War factories were all underground.
The end of Flight of the Intruder turns out to be a replay of the end of
The Bridges at Toko-Ri, only even less
satisfying. This time, air cover is instantaneous and our heroes can all bunch together around their
fallen plane and not be detected. The little anonymous Commies expose themselves to strafing runs
rather than simply close in and annihilate the pilots, or wait until the air cover goes away. It's
total fantasy land, like in the 1930 Wead movies. We dissolve back to the deck of Uncle Sam's
carrier, where the survivors compare bandages (hey, Jake's hand is gonna be just fine) and
talk about glory and promotions.
Flight of the Intruder's pilots talk a smokescreen of antiwar sentiment: Why are we here? / I
don't want to hurt civilians / We're going to lose. But when it comes time to act, they embody a
warrior ethic that justifies all, so long as one's personal identity and warrior destiny is upheld.
Losing a meaningless war means hitting harder. It might as well be a Samurai film. Military
cooperation on this one must have hit an all-time record.
John Milius is not credited as a screenwriter, but both the shape of the film and many details are all his.
The 'fun camaraderie' of aviators whoring and brawling in a foreign port, among all those accomodating
but irrelevant natives, comes right out of Big Wednesday. He even manages to 'dedicate' another
one of his pictures to Sam Peckinpah, this time by ending with a dialogue line from The Wild
Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe just shine in pictures like this. Brad Johnson has an uncanny likeness
to Tom Berenger in some scenes; he comes off as likeable and would have had a big career if
straight-arrow war movies were in vogue. A rather thin Tom Sizemore embodies the biggest War Movie
Cliché of them all, by making sentimental talk about his family and wife before a big
mission. The film could have skipped the action scene and gone right to his funeral. That these
squarehead moviemakers never seem to learn how hilariously predictable a pattern this is, is
a testament to the undying blindness of war movies.
The elaborate pre-digital effects are very impressive, with the SAM missiles handled rather well. Much
of the banter and other military details have a ring of semi-authenticity, as well. Certainly not
as the typical Top Gun or Rambo movie, Flight of the Intruder will please fans
who like their war movies the way They Used to Make Them.
Paramount's DVD of Flight of the Intruder is a plain-wrap gem with a great transfer and
crystal clear sound. The enhanced picture on a big monitor sparkles, and makes the elaborate
special effects look even more real. There are no extras, not even a trailer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Flight of the Intruder rates:
Movie: Good --
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 11, 2003
1. When it came time to be
serious, Wead also wrote the superlative
They Were Expendable, so he was no slouch.
2. My Air Force dad refused to call them pilots!
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson