blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Broken Arrow (1996, John Woo)

At one point or another, everyone in Broken Arrow tries very hard and gives it their all. Sometimes it works out, like when Samantha Mathis has her violence free stunt sequences or Delroy Lindo gets to deliver a lousy line well, sometimes it doesn’t work out, like Howie Long as one of the goons or… well, lots of John Travolta and Christian Slater. More Travolta, obviously, but also because he tries all the time. Slater doesn’t try as hard so doesn’t fail as hard.

Oh, and Frank Whaley. Broken Arrow is impressive in its earnest attempts at obvious moments; it’s unclear why they’re in the movie, like if director Woo wanted to do bland American jokes or if writer Graham Yost fought for them… one-liners to exit scenes with. Really bad banter stuff. And it’s all Whaley is there for and he doesn’t do any of it well. He doesn’t do the one-liners well, he doesn’t do the nerdy analyst stuff well, he’s a charisma vacuum.

But he does try and the movie tries too with him and they both just fail. So while Whaley’s a charisma vacuum, you do feel empathy for him in his plight… being trapped in this very silly movie.

Long, on the other hand, is an unsympathetic charisma vacuum. Once the movie pairs Travolta off mainly with Long, it’s like Travolta’s bad performance gets less annoying because not only isn’t it Long, you get to watch Long watch Travolta’s performance and be entirely incapable of reacting.

Most of the other performances are fine. And Travolta’s even got some moments. He and Slater both do this “I did Tarantino” thing with their banter and it does bring some energy, but it’s only with one another and it’s never consistent. Or good, really. I mean, it’s… amusing from a certain point of view. They’re trying.

And Broken Arrow’s trying often has some ingenuity. There’s a lengthy suspense action sequence in a mine because you can do a fairly impressive mine set on the cheap. The train sequence is limited but good. Woo certainly shows off his range when it comes to action settings. There are some gunfights (but not many), fistfights, and lots of running and jumping from explosion stunts. Broken Arrow’s glorious in its pyrotechnics.

The story—involving a traitorous Air Force pilot stealing a nuclear warhead to blackmail the Pentagon—feels more like a B+ movie plot than an A one, but it’s only 108 minutes and there are a lot of pyrotechnics credits to get through. You only have to amuse for so long.

Oh, and the Hans Zimmer score. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s for a video game. Besides Howie Long, Frank Whaley (sorry, sir), and a perplexingly miscast Jack Thompson, all of Broken Arrow’s defects are kind of charming. And it’s quite competently made, it’s just… you know… silly.

And Travolta’s kind of silly. Like, really, really silly. But tolerably silly.

And Mathis is really likable. Enough I wish they’d made Broken Arrow 2: Flight Control with Mathis and Slater teaming up again. They’re not exactly good together or even charming together, but they work together. Actually, that sentence also sums up Broken Arrow.

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