Broken Arrow

Friday, November 27, 2009

‘Ain’t it cool?’

No, not really. Broken Arrow is a dull, embarrassing action film only rendered somewhat watchable by John Travolta hamming his brains out. His performance here is unrestrained and crazy, and all the more entertaining for it. It’s a taste of what was to come in Face/Off.

‘Hush. Hush!’

Easily the best moment in the film is when Deakins (Travolta) kills Bob Gunton’s character. For scene after scene, Gunton, who’s been funding an operation to steal a nuclear bomb, keeps on ranting and raving about Deakins’ irresponsible behaviour. He doesn’t seem to realise that Deakins is a stone cold psychopath. He just keeps poking and prodding and moaning, thinking that his large wallet will be enough to garner the respect that will avoid murder death kill. What a mistake.

Gunton’s death occurs while he and Deakins are trying to outrun an upcoming nuclear explosion. Oh, and a helicopter gunship. Now in this case, seeing as Travolta has set a nuclear bomb to explode and as he’s attracted the attention of the military, you’d think that Gunton would be right to hand Deakins his ass. But Gunton is such a nag that you can’t help but think that he deserves it. His tone is like that of a shrill civil union partner. ‘Why have you chosen to detonate one of our nukes? Why have you let the military catch up to us? Why are you driving our Hummer so fast? Why haven’t you painted the gazebo yet? Why am I always the bottom?’

And so Gunton gets a torch smashed into his throat and he chokes to death. But as he gurgles his last gurgle, Travolta delivers the immortal line, ‘Hush. Hush!’ It’s hilariously delivered. It’s like Travolta is reprimanding the man for not having the decency to die quickly and quietly. Even when he’s croaking, Gunton has to shoot his mouth off.

In fact, this scene is so funny that when I saw it in isolation on YouTube a few months ago, I literally cried with laughed. Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks. My hysteria was such that my wife feared for my mental wellbeing. How to explain the things that tickle the centre of the funny bone?

‘Looks like we’ve got ourselves a stand-off.’ [shoots man in the leg and rams his head into the dashboard] ‘No…we…don’t!’

Christian Slater’s hero is a bland dullard who doesn’t get to do dirty things with the girl and who spends lots of time getting beaten up by a lardy ham blob. About the only cool thing he gets to do or say is when he shoots a man in the leg and then berates him while ramming his head into the dashboard. Otherwise all Slater gets to do is have unconvincing fisticuffs with women and corpulent Scientologists.

An example of how bad the fights are is the scuffle between Slater and Travolta in the spy jet. Fair enough they’re kind of hampered by the situation – strapped into their seats – but it still ends up resembling something from an 80s Hulk Hogan wrestling match. At one point they lock up and it’s like you’re watching the Warrior and the Hulkster performing an excruciating test of strength. Thankfully, though, in this case, the test of strength only lasts for about ten seconds rather than the ten minutes you have to endure at Wrestlemania VI.

Once they’re freed from the constraints of sitting in seats, the actors are allowed full freedom to engage in bad martial arts. Sure it’s not quite Roger Moore bad (Judo chop! Stunt double kick!) but it’s not particularly elegant. It would have been much better if John Woo would have allowed his actors to engage in some street fighting rather than some mediocre chop-socky.

The gun fights, too, are somewhat disappointing, which is surprising seeing as this is a Woo film. But there’s nothing remarkable about them. The action only gets fun right at the end. I particularly enjoyed the bad guy falling to his death and screaming like a TIE Fighter. And Travolta’s death is hilarious. He gets penetrated by a nuclear bomb and then there’s a massive explosion. Orgasm, anyone?

Although Travolta does try earlier to get himself off. There’s a highly amusing scene where he molests the leading lady and gets her to punch a code into the nuclear bomb as he gropes her and repeatedly tells her to ‘Enter’. Quite what the subtext for this scene is, I don’t know. Does he merely want her to fondle his large warhead or does he want her to ‘enter’ him?

‘I say goddamn what a rush!’

Having dissed the film’s crappy action scenes, I will add one caveat. The film is rich with helicopter explosions and helicopter-related violence. One helicopter crashes because of the EMP generated by a nuclear blast and in the final sequence a man gets taken out by a rotor blade, which is a magnificent way to die in my opinion. But he doesn’t get beheaded. No, he gets chopped in the chest. [Chuckles]

‘What a terrible thing to say.’

However, the best thing about the film is the music. There’s a cool guitar riff that plays when Travolta enters a scene. It’s really much more than Deakins deserves. However, bizarrely, in one scene, when Travolta supposedly emerges from the dead, it sounds like some sort of lullaby is playing. It’s weird but I dig it. It’s one of the few rays of light in this piece of crap.

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