Airwolf: The Movie launched the series of the same name back in the mid-eighties and made twelve year old kids around the continent into helicopter fanatics for a while. It's a series that's remembered pretty fondly by a lot of people who saw it when it was new as it was a show that seemed fresh and exciting and on the very cutting edge of the latest in technology. Time isn't always kind to pop entertainment, however, but even if it's mostly for nostalgic reasons this movie, the one that started it all, is still a fun watch.
Written and directed by Donald P. Bellisario, the movie begins when a brilliant military scientist named Dr. Charles Henry Moffet (David Hemmings) creates a billion dollar helicopter dubbed Airwolf. Capable of breaking the sound barrier and armed with fourteen different weapons, one of which is nuclear, this is a helicopter unlike any other and an incredibly powerful weapon. Unfortunately, Moffet is evil and he defects to Libya, selling out to the evil General Gaddafi (how timely, given what's going on while this review is being written!) and taking his mighty war machine with him. Well, the United States government isn't going to stand for that - not only did they pay for the helicopter but they obviously don't want it in the hands of a lunatic dictator. Enter Michael Coldsmith Briggs III (Alex Cord), a guy in a white suit with an eye-patch - he knows just the right man for the job, a Vietnam vet named Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael Vincent) who is the best damn helicopter pilot you've ever seen. We see Hawke in action on the set of a movie where he impresses a bunch of people on the ground by flying very close to them.
At any rate, Briggs and his foxy assistant, Gabrielle Ademaur (Belinda Bauer), set out to find Hawke, and when they do he's sitting on the dock a few feet away from his cabin, playing a cello while his dog sits at his feet and an American Eagle flies overheard (seriously). He's done with war and not interested in getting involved until he learns that there's a million dollar paycheck in it for him. At this point, he agrees, but needs to bring along his friend Dominic (Ernest Borgnine) to help him out. So Hawke and Dominic secretly make their way into Libya to steal and fly back the helicopter that Gaddafi has been using to fly around and blow stuff up.
While far from the most realistic movie ever made, this one is still a fun watch. Yes, it's definitely corny by modern standards and not particularly concerned with creating any sort of believability but it moves at a good pace and features some fun performances. Jan Michael Vincent, who was a huge star at the time this was made, is pretty good as the man of few words who saves the day and his interaction with the far more jovial Borgnine makes for some great on screen chemistry. Belinda Bauer, probably best known for Robocop, provides some welcome sex appeal and makes for a pretty predictable love interest for Stringfellow (who came up with that name?) and Alex Cord is fun in his part but the real scene stealer here is Hemmings. Relishing his chance to play the bad guy, if he's not shooting coins out from between some guy's fingers in a swimming pool he's cavorting with terrorists, dressing up in Arab garb and just generally making a big ol' pain in the ass out of himself. He's perfect in the role and a whole lot of fun to watch.
The action scenes are handled very well, if not by today's standards so much as the standards of the day, and there are plenty of scenes of helicopter action, shoot outs and other assorted chaos to keep things exciting. Some of the fondness for this will definitely come from remembering it from your younger days but that doesn't really diminish the movie's entertainment value - it's hokey eighties TV action at its finest.
Airwolf: The Movie is presented in 1.33.1 fullframe, which was probably its original intended aspect ratio given its origins and all. As to the quality of the transfer itself, it's nothing to get excited about. The image is soft and sometimes suffers from muddiness in the darker scenes. Color reproduction looks a bit flat as well and detail is below average. It doesn't look like much restoration work was done here at all.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix sounds like an old made for TV movie, so don't expect much here. Dialogue is a bit muddled in spots but the sound effects fare reasonably well and overall the levels are generally well balanced. This isn't a particularly exciting mix and it probably could have been cleaned up more than it has been, but it gets the job done. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided on this release.
An interview with Ernest Borgnine is fun as the co-star of the movie and the subsequent television series reminisces about his work on Airwolf with a smile, obviously fond on remembering the movie and the show. He talks about how he came on board the project, working with the helicopters and his co-stars. Aside from that there's a still gallery, menus and chapter stops.
Airwolf: The Movie probably won't appeal to those who weren't children of the eighties but if you fall into that demographic and remember the show fondly from those days, you'll definitely get a kick out of this. Yes, it's unrealistic and frequently very goofy but it's also a whole lot of dopey fun. Shout's DVD doesn't look or sound so hot, unfortunately, but the Borgnine interview is cool to see. Die-hard fans of the series will want this, everyone else should rent it first.
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.