Capsule review: War movie seemed targeted to a freshman,
all-male audience. This movie is more interesting if one has a
small background knowledge of the Vietnamese war and the
technical jargon that surrounds modern warfare. This movie
would do a lot better if it was not released at the time of the
War in the Gulf. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4); might be worth a
low-cost matinee show.
Are movie audiences willing to pay good money for something they
can watch on the nightly news? If the movie's lack of success in its
early weeks is any indication, FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER has already
crashed and burned.
The movie is based fairly accurately on Steven Coonts' novel of the
same name. If you read the book, you might not want to see the movie,
or at least be ready for disappointment. The movie follows the book
until just about the end, and then things change dramatically. If you
haven't read the book, do yourself a favor; it's much better than the
Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton (Brad Johnson) follows the
footsteps of all the classic heroes. So what is the problem with Jake
(or is it Johnson)? He never seems to live up to the super hero image
he was portrayed to be in the book. I kept wanting to accept him as the
hero, but this never happened. If Johnson had more of a domineering
personality (like Tom Cruise in TOP GUN, for example), then Jake might
live up to he the hero the movie wants him to be.
Danny Glover plays the tough Flight Commander, Frank Camparelli,
although he too is hard to accept as a character in a serious role. In
my opinion, the only strong performance in this movie comes from Willem
Dafoe as Virgil Cole, Jake's renegade bombardier. Dafoe seems to cast
himself into the Vietnam-era movies, perhaps contributing in part to
his success in this film.
One disappointing part of the movie is that few moments are devoted
to the A-6A Intruder's breathtaking takeoffs and landings from the deck
of the aircraft carrier. Despite the fact that the movie was actually
filmed on an aircaft carrier, this enormous resource was never
FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER is second in a generation of high-tech
thrillers. The first being Tom Clancy's HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
(ironically, by the same producers). Consequently, it is not too
surprising that FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER suffers the same technical
misgivings that the Hunt for Red October had: the aphrodisiac that
pulls readers to Coonts' and Clancy's books is the great attention to
detail. Coonts painfully describes evading a surface-to-air missile
(SAM) (from Page 6 of FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER):
"There's the SAM! Two o'clock! Jake fought back the urge to
urinate. Both men watched the white rocket exhaust while
Grafton squeezed the chafe-release button on the right
throttle with his forefinger. Each push released a small
plastic container into the slipstream where it dispersed a
cloud of metallic fibers--the chaff--that would echo radar
energy and form a false target on the enemy operator's radar
screen. The pilot carefully nudged the stick foreword and
dropped to 200 feet above the ground. He jabbed the chaff
button four more times in quick succession..."
The movie shows us this high tension scene in five seconds. There
is no explanation to what is actually happening. I found myself running
home to read the book again to satisfy the questions the movie left
The movie plays with two subplots and I'm not sure if they really
belong in the film. In the book they play a more important role in
breathing life into the characters, in the movie they simply get in the
way. Jake's relationship with Callie (Rosanna Arquette) seems
superficial and unimportant (where in the book Callie plays a pivotal
role in saving Jake's sanity) and the "Mad Shitter" never really lives
up to the suspense it could have been.
The success of the techno-thriller novel is that a reader can fly
an A-6A Intruder just by reading along. The movie fails on this level.
Maybe I simply expected too much from a good book?
Capsule review: Pretty pictures, stupid story. The
air-war of a previous conflict is occasionally entertaining
to watch but the plot is cliched as are most of the
characters. This film's only chance is to follow the current
wave of interest in military equipment. Rating: low 0.
Had I not actually seen a copy of the book FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER by
Stephen Coonts, I would have had a hard time telling if this was a very weak
story given classy military equipment photography and quality special
effects treatment or if this was just a collection of classy military
equipment photography and quality special effects tied together by a very
weak excuse for a story. During World War II a lot of B war movies carried
stories just as good to the bottom half of double bills. We are talking
HELLCATS OF THE NAVY-level plotting here. In 1972 Vietnam we have an
aircraft carrier ruled over by a cigar-chewing, mean-as-a-junkyard-dog-but-
heart-of-gold sort of commander. Danny Glover plays the Black commander
with the unlikely name Frank Camparelli. One of his bright young pilots,
Jake Grafton (played by the uninteresting Brad Johnson) agonizes over the
loss of his bombardier. The companion is lost in a raid that accomplishes
nothing besides adding visual interest to the opening credits. Grafton
wants to go on a super-special raid of his own devising. But this raid is
directly contrary to orders. His top-gun replacement bombardier Virgil Cole
(played by Willem Dafoe) says absolutely not. Does Jake get to make his
super-special raid on North Vietnam? And if he does, what is the Navy's
The weak story is, however, punctuated by pretty pictures of planes,
helicopters, and aircraft carriers to keep the audience watching. If this
film stands any chance with audiences it is in the fortuitous timing of this
film coincident with a sudden upsurge of interest in technical weaponry.
Indeed many people may find events in the Middle East resonating with
attitudes in this film. On the other hand, maybe some people would prefer
to stay home and watch technical weaponry on television.
FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER is directed by John Milius, who is specializing
in gutsy films like APOCALYPSE NOW (which he wrote), CONAN THE BARBARIAN,
and RED DAWN. The score is by Basil Poledouris, the gifted composer of the
scores for the "Conan" films, who seems repeatedly associated with films
with right-wing themes. Poledouris scored RED DAWN, AMERIKA, and THE HUNT
FOR RED OCTOBER.
FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER is linked in advertising with THE HUNT FOR RED
OCTOBER, but it falls well short of that film's interest value and quality.
My rating is a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Mark R. Leeper