Monday, July 05, 2010

Underrated Movie #82: Terminal Velocity

Welcome to day 2 of Cheesy Movies Week. I should make it clear here that each selection will get cheesier and more disreputable all week long. That's right: Hard Rain was the classy one.

Title: Terminal Velocity
Year: 1994
Director: Deran Sarafian (who?)
Writer: David Twohy
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Nastassja Kinski, James Gandolfini

The Story: Sheen is “Ditch Brody”, a hotshot skydiving instructor with a sketchy safety recond. Kinski seems to be a nervous student, but then she dies in her first jump—or so it appears… Pesky D. A. Gandolfini is ready to prosecute, but Sheen realizes that nobody is what they seem. Soon he and not-so-dead-Kinski find themselves in an escalating series of death-defying scrapes with various Russian bad guys.

How it Came to be Underrated: This had to compete against an inferior Wesley Snipes skydiving thriller that came out at the same time. Neither one made much money. Also, it has Charlie Sheen in it, so nobody was ever going to take it seriously, which is understandable, really...

Why It’s Great Cheesy Fun:

  1. CGI has ruined action movies in so many ways. First, it always looks flatter and emptier than model work. Secondly, models, though small, are still affected by gravity and other laws of physics, which the CGI guys can never bother to re-create. Third, and most importantly, when you had to shoot a stunt to get the shot, the audience knew that someone was actually jumping out of an airplane, even if it was just a stuntman with a bad wig. We weren’t just watching a character do it, we were also watching a real person do it too (albeit in different circumstances than we saw on screen). Nobody knew it at the time, but this movie was right at the end of the golden age of stuntwork.
  2. And the stunts in this movie are just insanely thrilling. It all culminates in scene where Kinski is locked in the trunk of a car that is pushed out the back of a plane. Sheen has to get her out in mid-air. I dare any jaded movie-snob to not pump your fist in the air and should “hell yeah” at the end of that one.
  3. But here’s the big problem with this movie: I talked before about how much more heroic it is if the hero is trying to save his community and not just get revenge, but the opposite situation is even more problematic. The hero has to have some connection to the people he’s saving. In this movie, an Arizona sky-bum realizes he has to stop a bunch of spies in order to save the Russian economy. Sorry, but we’ll never believe that he would care about that. Sheen obviously doesn’t believe it himself.
  4. When The Sopranos hit, I, like everybody else, was wondering where the hell James Gandolfini had come from. I was surprised to realize that I’d actually seen him play the heavy in a half-dozen movies without ever knowing it was the same guy, which is to his credit. He disappeared into each role until he finally found his opportunity to be a star.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Twohy later wrote and directed a neat little WWII submarine ghost story called Below. The only real competitor I think this movie had for bragging rights to the best aerial stuntwork was an underrated Timothy Dalton James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD.

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