Riding on the coattails of the box office success of Top Gun, John Milius' Flight Of The Intruder eschews the fairly grim nature of eighties era Vietnam films like Platoon in favor of macho chest thumping heroism. Based on the novel of the same name by author Stephen Coonts, it's neither the most realistic war film ever made, nor the most exciting, but it's got a few interesting cast members and a couple of scenes that work.
The film is set in 1972 and is centered around a U.S. Navy pilot named Lieutenant Jake 'Cool Hand' Grafton (Brad Johnson) who spends his days flying various bombing missions over the northern section of Vietnam. His job is surprisingly mundane, given that he's flying over or around combat areas, until his bombardier is shot during a mission. He voices his discontent to his commanding officer (Danny Glover) but it all seems to fall on deaf ears. Then he meets Lieutenant Commander Virgil Cole (Willem Dafoe) and convinces him to help him out on his quest to secretly sneak out in a top of the line A-6 Intruder bomber, fly it across enemy lines, and bomb the Hell out of the enemy stronghold. Of course, all of this will be done undercover and without the authorization of top brass.
Flight Of The Intruder isn't as nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. While it's true that it's not as glitzy for flashy as Scott's Tom Cruise star-maker, it's not trying to be. There's considerably more focus here on realism and detail and this really shows in the combat scenes. The scenes where the bomber is being fired upon are quite tense and some of the combat scenes themselves are very impressive indeed. It's a shame than that the film is hampered by Johnson's remarkably bland performance and dragged down by a completely unnecessary romantic subplot involving an admittedly very cute Rosanna Arquette. With Johnson headlining the cast (Danny Glover is top billed but he's really only a supporting player here), the film is hurt as he isn't all that convincing in the part. He lacks the enthusiasm and spirit that the role calls for and it's hard to take much of an interest in the character because of this.
The film does have an interesting supporting cast, however. Dafoe is very good in his part, bringing that slightly off kilter presence he works so well to the role and making it all the better for it. Dafoe is the one, true stand out in the film and he steals pretty much every scene he is afforded the opportunity to though he never goes completely over the top as he does in some of his other performances. Glover is his usual 'gruff and grumpy' self and he too is fine in the part. Arquette, who is easy enough to look at, seems to match Johnson's penchant for sleepwalking in this film, however. Smaller parts are given to stand outs such as Tom Sizemore, David Schwimmer and Ving Rhames, none of whom are particularly remarkable here though it is interesting to see them appear in the film.
The film falls victim to a seemingly endless barrage of war movie clichés in its last half but that doesn't take away from the obvious attention to detail that was put into getting the military technology right for the film. The planes and weaponry all feel quite authentic and if nothing else, the film generally looks very good. Milius does a fine job directing the action sequences and ensures that they are exciting and intense, making it all the more of a shame that the dramatic sequences which are needed to string them together fall as flat as they do. This results in some pacing problems and a film that winds up feeling very padded when it should have been consistently tense and suspenseful. Had there been more character development and more consistency in the script and had Johnson's performance been even remotely interesting, this could have been a contender but as it stands it's a very flawed movie with a lot of clichés and a few stand out action scenes.
Flight Of The Intruder debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that doesn't appear to have been all that well taken care of. While color reproduction looks quite good and detail levels aren't bad, the picture is frequently dirty and mild print damage appears throughout. The disc is well authored at least, as there aren't any obvious compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues and if any noise reduction has been applied, it's subtle. There are a few too many scenes that just look plain noisy and rather grimy and not necessarily in a cool, atmospheric way. At least the colors look nice, and the skin tones do as well. It doesn't appear that there was a whole lot of restoration work done on this title, however.
Lionsgate offers up an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track with optional subtitles supplied in English, English SDH and Spanish. The audio here is just as uneven as the video quality, sadly. There's some great low end rumble present when you'd expect it to be and the scenes involving the planes sound nice and noisy. The battle scenes have some impressive directional effects and the levels are generally well balanced throughout. You will notice, however, that there is some distortion in the higher range of the mix. You'll notice this during a few of the action sequences and you'll hear it not only in some of the sound effects but in some of the dialogue as well. Aside from that issue, which is notable, the mix is pretty good but that flaw is a distracting one.
Amazingly enough, this disc contains no extras aside from a menu and chapter selection. Lionsgate couldn't even be bothered to include a trailer here, though they have included some promos for other, unrelated titles that are played before you can get to the menu screen. Oh, and there's as bookmarking option here as well, but really, no real extras to speak of.
If you're an established fan of the film, this Blu-ray release does offer up a modest upgrade over the standard definition release, but the key word here is modest. There are moments where the transfer shines and others where it looks soft and noisy and the complete lack of extras makes it really hard to recommend. Flight Of The Intruder is far from a classic but it deserved a better Blu-ray release than it has received here. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.