And now, a joint review by the Sisters St. George on one of their very favorite comfort films: Broken Arrow.
As much as there is to be said for guilty pleasure bad horror, guilty pleasure bad action is a genre unto itself. Broken Arrow may, in fact, be our very favorite example of this genre. There’s no end to the joy that we get from watching it, just absolutely no end. Explaining why this is so can be, unfortunately, somewhat difficult, especially if the person you’re trying to explaining it to can’t quite appreciate the ridiculous nature of a John Travolta villain. But, we figured we’d try it out.
Here is the lovely Mekaela St. George, to relate to the basic summary of the film.
Maj. Deakins (John Travolta) and Capt. Hale (Christian Slater) are pilots in the US Air Force. During a training exercise, while they are flying a stealth bomber with two nuclear weapons, Deak tries to kill Hale (ultimately triggering Hale’s ejection seat/parachute) and then drops the (inactive) nukes to be picked up later by his team. Hale survives and meets up with super park ranger Terry (Samantha Mathis) and the two spend the rest of the movie trying to recover the nukes from Deak and save the day.
1.) There are a few motifs and running themes in this movie that are about as subtle as a . . . well, a nuclear bomb, actually; the first of which centers around the idea that our hero, Hale, doesn’t have what it takes. Or, I suppose, that he does have what it takes, but he doesn’t want it enough; he flinches. He’s a dirty flincher. Until his old friend tries to kill him and blow up America, that is. Then he has something to fight for!
This is set up from the very beginning when Deakins and Hale are boxing, and Hale, per usual, is getting his ass kicked. You see, the whole movie is like one big, boxing match between the two of them. Admittedly, the boxing match is on a slightly more epic scale this time, with bigger stakes than the twenty bucks that they normally bet, but never fear! Each will take time out of their busy schedule of a) stealing nuclear weapons or b) saving America to pull a twenty dollar bill out of their pocket and stare at it in a meaningful way. We’ll have a little more to say on the twenty dollar bill in the spoiler section, but for now, let’s just say that the rope-a-dope is very important thematically in this film, and it’s something that Deakins excels at and Hale, not so much.
2.) One of the reasons this movie works so well (at least, as a bad-good movie) is the gleefully cartoonish performance of John Travolta. He is over-the-top and ridiculous and we love every minute of it, from his insane “Ha ha ha!” laughter after firing his gun like a maniac to his choice of delivering every other line through gritted teeth, the best, of course, is this: “Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?”
And while Christian Slater isn’t quite as enjoyably cartoonish as Travolta is in the film, he delivers a lot of funny lines with the exact amount of wryness that’s needed from him. Their scenes together are fun to watch, and they at least look like they’re having a good time making this silly film. At least, we certainly hope so. No point in making bad action movies if you can’t enjoy blowing shit up and shooting big guns at people.
3.) Actually, for a bad action movie, a lot of the dialogue is pretty sharp. Okay, the plot’s ridiculous, and the script is not exactly subtle, but there are a lot of good lines in this film, some delivered perfectly, and some . . . that would have been awesome if they have been delivered by much better actors. Here are some examples:
“You know, these exercises are fantastic. When the day comes that we have to go to war against Utah, we are really going to kick ass, you know?” – Hale
“I’m not ready to die, not for you.”
“Everybody dies, Kelly. I’m as good of a reason as any.” – Kelly and Deak
“You assured me everything would go smoothly.”
“Everything is going smoothly, I assure you.” – Pritchett and Deak
“I don’t know what’s scarier: losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there’s actually a term for it.” – Giles
4.) That last line there? Yeah, that one could have been delivered better. Most of Giles’s lines could have been, actually. Frank Whaley doesn’t do much for us in this film. In fact, you can just take Giles out entirely, and no one would give a damn, because he’s an annoying side character who only takes time away from Christian Slater jumping off things or John Travolta chewing more scenery. He’s relatively unnecessary to the plot: give a couple of things he says to one of the military characters (Delroy Lindo, for instance, who is awe-sooooome) and nothing really changes. The movie would be better for it.
5.) More poor choices in casting . . . Samantha Mathis, sad, I know, because she and Christian Slater should be old hat at this whole chemistry thing, with their animated love in Fern Gully and their teenage angst in Pump Up The Volume . . . but as gung-ho park ranger, Terry, Samantha Mathis is just irritating as shit. She’s not even remotely convincing as a normal woman turned badass, and mostly, you just want to slap her across the face. Seriously, right across the face. A few of her reactions aren’t bad (she has a completely valid freakout at one point, and she does just fine with that), and then a few of them are horrifying (like directly after her freakout, when Christian Slater’s comforting her, and she decides to react like someone with possible BRAIN DAMAGE. *Giggle, giggle* “It doesn’t say that.” Honestly, Hale, listen to me: ditch the bitch.
Actually, maybe you really shouldn’t have let her come in the first place. Admittedly, I’m not up to speed on standard park ranger procedure, but my guess is this: when you see a plane fly overheard, see someone eject from it with a parachute, and finally find said parachuted-pilot, who is obviously a part of the American military, the proper response is probably NOT to pull your gun on him and then arrest him for . . . what? Staring introspectively over a cliffside? Surviving a plane crash? Did we mention brain damage yet?
Besides the potential brain damage and the slight tendency towards being trigger happy, Terry also just makes stupid fucking choices. How stupid, you may ask? Well, to answer that question, here’s a Choose Your Own Adventure Game just for you:
*So you’re a park ranger that’s been caught up in a plot to stop a psychopath with a nuke. You’ve managed to escape being shot, cleaved in two via helicopter, and even from getting blown up by a nuclear weapon. You and your hot pilot BF have figured out how the villain is going to transfer the nuke and have beat him to the boat. Unfortunately, he’s heading your way! Do you:
A. Jump into the water, swim away, and hide with your hot BF.
B. Stay in the boat and cleverly hide underneath a blanket, hoping that none of the four bad men with big guns will spot you.
So you panicked and stayed in the boat. That’s okay. *Grumbles.* These things happen. Anyway, you make it off the boat without being detected and see that the bad guys are now going by truck to their final destination. Do you:
A. Take note of which direction they’re going, wait till they leave, and then get someone else (like anyone with a weapon) to deal with it.
B. Jump on the truck (but at least perkily acknowledge that its a bad idea as you do it)
We’re going to skip asking about getting on the train. Of course you’re getting on the train, you plucky thing. On the train you come across a nerdy looking man guarding the nuke and try to take him out. Naturally, he’s not a dork but a Navy Seal! Thankfully, you’re able to take him out with your awesome hammer throwing skills that you picked up . . . park ranging, maybe? Anyway, now it’s just you and the nuke. Do you:
A. Try and deactivate it yourself, even though you don’t have any training and the guy that did have training – you know, the guy you left at the river? – was the one that accidentally set off the first nuke. But yeah, I’m sure you’ll have much better luck.
B. Er, go to Starbucks?
In conclusion, Terry’s a dumb bitch who deserves to die.
6.) It is a general rule of thumb that stepping into a helicopter is always a bad idea. Seriously, at least one helicopter crashes in almost every other action movie we can think of. But in Broken Arrow, helicopters are not just a bad idea; they are the kiss of DEATH. Four helicopters blow up; FOUR. John Woo has something against helicopters, we’re thinking.
7.) Our mom is an Oakland Raiders fan. Well, that’s a bit like saying that Pacific Ocean has some fish in it. Our mom is THE Oakland Raiders fan. One of her favorite Raiders, the one that she had a crush on, is actually in this film: Howie Long as Kelly, Travolta’s second banana.
The acting is about what you would expect, but there is this one scene in the film that just cracks us up. See, the good guys think that Kelly is also a good guy and not a treacherous heel with a giant flat top of a head, so when he calls them and pretends that one of the nukes is busted open and leaking radiation everywhere, they believe him, even with his awesomely over-the-top performance via radio, “Oh GAWD, what am I going to do, aughhhh!” Seriously, it’s hysterical. He fake coughs and moans and makes pained faces like he’s having the world’s worst bowel movement, even though nobody but Deakins can see him. It’s awesome.
8.) Finally, before we go into the Spoiler Section (yes, for those of you who are terribly worried that this evil conspiracy to ransom America for nuke money might actually succeed) let us leave you with a few parting pieces of advice from Riley Hale:
A. If you need to learn where to blow shit up, go to Trenton, New Jersey. Apparently, they’re hardcore up there.
B. While engaging in a game of metaphorical boxing with your evil ex-friend, show how well you learned your lessons about the rope-a-dope and feeding your opponent false expectations before surprising him with your real plan of attack BY TELLING HIM EXACTLY WHAT YOUR NEXT MOVE IS TO THWART HIM.
C. There is no such thing as a standoff.
D. If you see butterflies after a nuclear explosion, you’re going to be just fine.
America is blown up. John Travolta wins. The End.
Okay, fine. First, before we get to the big finish, we haven’t really talked much about Pritchett yet. Pritchett (played by Bob Gunton, who routinely plays loveable characters, like the unfeeling bastard of a father in Dead Silence or the cuddly Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption) is the money behind the stealing-nukes operation, and Pritchett doesn’t have a lot of confidence in how Deak is running things. He also doesn’t have a lot of common sense. For starters, he comes along to collect the nukes and see them safely on to their destination. For the love of God, why? You’re the bank roll, you idiot! Isn’t the whole point of being rich is having the capability to hire people to do the dirty work for you, while you stay safely at home, watching your television and letting someone else get the sunburn?
Anyway, Pritchett apparently doesn’t put much stock in that particular philosophy, so he comes along and whines and bitches so much that Deak finally takes a pipe to the guy’s throat, hilariously telling him, “Hush! HUSH!” as Pritchett gurgles and dies in his seat. Because here’s another life lesson for you, kids: don’t piss off the psychopath. It’s not a thing to be proud of. (Hear me, Hale? Stop sounding so accomplished that you’ve managed to piss off somebody WHO WANTS TO KILL YOU.)
Anyway, the big, final showdown is on a train. Hale and Terry get assistance from Delroy Lindo for awhile, until he is completely and needlessly killed off. Seriously, we haven’t talked much about him in this review, but he, unlike Giles, is an awesome side character (he has an excellent, “Oh, SHIT!” moment) and there’s really no point in killing him off other than to get Hale and Terry on their own again. Which is fine, but Delroy didn’t really need to be in the helicopter in the first place. (Doesn’t anyone listen to us about having your subordinates do the heavy lifting?) So, you’re thinking, okay, maybe his death will have an emotional impact on both the audience and the characters, but no one in the film gives a shit about Delroy’s character getting shot and then EXPLODING, so ultimately the death just feels cheap and not well-earned. But moving on.
Riley and Terry kill off the bad guys one by one (Kelley is kicked out of an open door in the train as its hurtling over a bazillion foot bridge, so, sayonara, Flat Top.) Terry is tasked with uncoupling the train cars, while Riley and Deakins face off for the last time. They box for awhile, and Riley eventually gains the WILL TO WIN and starts kicking ass. This moment is best signified by Riley dropping the crowbar or whatever he’s holding onto, in favor of punching Deak’s head in with his bare fists instead. Finally, the train is about to explode (just go with it); Terry has fiercely taken off her jacket for no reason at all before she jumps over the side, and Riley jumps over as well, pushing the button on the remote that disarms that nuke as he dives away.
And then, and only then, dear friends, do we get to the best part in the whole movie. The momentum of the train cars crashing into each other causes the deactivated nuke to fly forward. Deak sees this, and in a moment of pure, unmitigated, “Fuck you, Nuclear Weapon; I can take you because I’m CRAAAAAZY!” Deak decides to stand up and face off against the incoming missile. So, it’s actually a bit more like: “Fuck you, Nuclear Weapon; I can take you because I’m CRAAAA-OOF.” It’s one of the most hilarious and ridiculous things we have ever seen on film, and trust us, people, we have seen a lot.
Of course, they ruin this great ending in two ways: first, Hale finds the very same burnt up, miraculous twenty that Deakins actually bet him on the exploding train, says, “I win,” and then just LETS THE MONEY GO (like, bitch, you need to FRAME that shit, and don’t even get us started on the random twenty Hale sacrifices to the desert earlier in the film, like, really? You couldn’t have lost the fight and given that twenty to a homeless shelter or something?)
Then, adding insult to injury, Hale and Terri have a nausea-inducing meet-up, and the whole audience gags to death in their seats, finally feeling Pritchett’s pain as the movie ends. But let’s not end on a down note, okay? Let us fondly remember the massive amounts of explosions, the ridiculous plot, and John Travolta STANDING UP TO A NUCLEAR WEAPON.
Clearly, this one’s an A+++.