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New Line // R // May 6, 2003
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted May 5, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Detonator (aka. Alistair MacLean's Death Train) is a 1993 USA cable action movie. A better title would be Tom Clancy's version of John Woo's Broken Arrow or, the title I most prefer, The Little Engine That Could Blow-Up Europe.

An ex-Soviet general (Christopher Lee) steals some plutonium and hires a German scientist to construct a nuclear bomb. The generals intention is to restart the Cold War. With the aide of a mercenary (Ted Levine), he hijacks a train and begins to transport the bomb across Europe. A United Nations Anti Crime Organization team, (Patrick Stewart, Pierce Brosnan, and Alexandra Paul) is called into action to stop the train, defuse the bomb, and figure out its source.

Depsite it being a tv movie with what I assumed to be slumming actors in Stewart and Lee and thankful for the job actors like Baywatch's Paul and the then marginally employed pre-Bond Brosnan, I had hopes for Detonator because it almost belongs in the "man in a control room" subgenre of the hijack film which includes the likes of Bullet Train, Runaway Train and the granddaddy of them all The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. But, instead it was just your same old same old made for cable garbage with a predictable script, noticeable low budget, and largely uninterested actors who share zero chemistry with each other.

On those actors, Stewart and Lee phone it in. Paul does about as good as you'd expect a Baywatch thespian to do. Levine, best known as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, comes out unscatherd with his role of a matter of fact mercenary and doesn't fall into any hammy villain ticks. Brosnan stinks. I mean, the man has never really impressed me, and I was one of the people who thought he was the luckiest b-film actor in the world to land the Bond gig. His acting in Detonator ranges from dull and obviously annoyed by the dreck he's in to hack glamour looks and huffy action poses. He's the epitome of the "handsome actor". He's all looks and surface, unable to convincingly get to the substance underneath like other actors (even ones with good looks like Johnny Depp and Montgomery Clift). This is the kind of low budget Bondish foray that probably got his career making gig as 007, and he should count his blessings if the Bond producers saw him in this and still decided to cast him in the franchise.

The story is pretty laughable and involves dragging side plots (like the dying German scientist who made the bomb, and poor Patrick Sewart stuck in the command center). The logic is too thin to believe- Transporting the train to Iraq in order to restart the Cold War between Russia and the US? The UNAC only sends three people (including Paul's character, a rookie) to deal with a rogue bomb, and even then Brosnan's team that goes after the train is pretty weak. Also it includes one of the most annoying spy clich├ęs, Brosnan's character is retired or has been out of action only to be specially called for the assignment. What aren't there thousands of qualified working agents they could assign? The low budget kills all of the action sequences, which make Under Siege 2 look like a masterpiece. Continuity cannot even be bothered since, for example, in an early scene they include stuff like audible gunfire from Levine's gun even though it has a silencer. Its also odd that Brosnan's supposed "hero' of the film gets so much face time, credit, and is on the cover, when he doesnt really do all that much and has little involvement in taking out the two main villians.

The director is David S. Jackson, whose steady career is pretty much confined to tv series and tv films, including shows like Witchblade, Nash Bridges, Miami Vice, Profiler, Pretender, Equalizer and 21 Jump Street. So like most people who only work in tv, his style is pretty much completely personality free and malleable. He couldn't get away from trains apparently, and also directed some other cable movie with Rob Lowe called Atomic Train. Amazingly Detonator actually garnished a sequel, which Jackson, Brosnan, and Paul returned for, 1995's Detonator 2: Night Watch, and this proves how easy and cheap the wasteland of cable films are to produce.

The DVD: Warner Home Video

Picture: Anamprophic Widescreen and Full-screen versions. Technically it is fine, no grand defects. The only real quibbles come from the low budget of the production which means it is a bit grainy, soft, and suffers from some low lighting choices. There is also a speck or two on the print, but in terms of tv films, it holds up pretty well. Just don't expect a top-notch major studio big budget action film production.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or Stereo Surround. Optional English subtitles. Once again, it is a tv film so the sound is okay, not fantastic. The music score and action fx is cut-rate. The 5.1 Surround mix is a big deal over nothing. It really doesn't offer that much dynamics and sort of hurts the already generic sound mix, which I think is aided by the Stereo track. With that latter track the weakness of the films sound budget is less noticeable.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for 15 Mins, Rush Hour 2, Knockaround Guys and The Corrupter .--- DVD Rom links.

Conclusion: Do you fit either of these two criteria- are you a Pierce Brosnan or Patrick Stewart stalker or a Tom Clancy fan who has brain damage? If you are either of the two then Detonator will be perfect for you. Otherwise, even at the cheap price it is something you will want to pass up. A fair barebones transfer of a bland action film. I just didn't find it very engaging and therefore cannot suggest it as anything more than a rental for those fans of the actors involved.

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