Broken Arrow

Hi-tech Coyote and Roadrunner . . .

As thereel rolls

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth . . .
. . .Put out my hand, and touched the face of Incredulity.

- apologies to John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Directed skillfully by John Woo
Produced with bravado by Mark Gordon, Bill Badalato and Terence Chang
Written poorly by Graham Yost /Photographed lovingly by Peter Levy
Music by Hans Zimmer
Edited well by John Wright, Steve Mirkovich and Joe Hutshing
Running time: 108 minutes. Classified: R (for strong action, violence and language)

There's hardly ever been a time when a key phrase didn't put fear into most hearts - bubonic plague, polio, AIDS, nuclear anything. We've had Chernobyl but never, since WWII, a major nuclear detonation that was not a test. It happens in Broken Arrow.

While we read the titles, the camera zooms down from on high to reveal the protagonist and the antagonist of this film pummeling each other to pieces in the ring. It's two Air Force officers, fliers of the B3 Stealth Bomber, Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater) and Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta), having a friendly boxing match. Finally, with Hale on the ropes, Deakins backs off, smiles and says patronizingly, "I always win." The film is about whether he's right.

Major Deakins is all smiles, but underneath seethes a man thwarted to the point of mental instability-long ago he should have made Colonel, but has not; so he conspires to make money instead of rank by stealing a nuclear weapon and selling it back to the government.

Deakins and Hale, pilot and co-pilot of a B3, are sent on a mission over the Utah desert to test their radiation detectability while they are carrying two real nuclear bombs. Deakins has plotted to dump them by parachute to waiting conspirators below. At gunpoint (after a cockpit fistfight of course) Deakins forces Hale to eject, and then must do so himself as the plane grazes a cliff.

Faceless powers-that-be chatter on their secure phones, declaring "Broken Arrow" (a missing nuke). Deakins has not counted on Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis), Park Ranger, who just happens to be skulking near by as park rangers are wont to do, and tries to arrest Hale for trespassing. Don't be too surprised when Terry and Hale, after a prickly beginning, team up to stop the Deakins highjacking.

We're treated to desert chases in army vehicles, nuclear terror in an abandoned copper mine, retreat in roiling underground rivers and the traditional struggle of the west on top of and inside a speeding train-all of this accompanied by undue bombast, violence, fire and explosion, including nuclear.

In the course of it all, Deakins develops a mantra: "Stop shooting at the nuclear weapons," delivered in a low key, flippant style that shows us the beautiful control of the recent Travolta.

Terry and Hale experience a growing trust and appreciation, and ultimately the shock of deep personal feelings as they save each others bacon again and again.

So many events go beyond the reasonable that it's hard to stay on board here. Terry is apparently immune to violent concussion, smashes on the head and such. So, too, are Hale and Deakins. And the plot conjures up the endless unrealities of a cartoon featuring Roadrunner and Wiley E. Coyote, always under the threat of nuclear disaster.

There's a hi-tech gloss to the film (almost half of whose credits are for computer-related skills, digital graphics and special effects); we're treated to B3's and helicopters snaking at less than 100 feet through the incredibly beautiful Arizona sandstone once loved and painted by Georgia O'Keefe.

Travolta is subtle in his portrayal of the frustrated major. Christian Slater plays a likable and resourceful Hale. Samantha Mathis, pretty but not breathtaking, is the most self-reliant woman in a gopher's age.

If you're to enjoy Broken Arrow at all, you'll not only have to suspend disbelief, you'll have to kill it. And, by the way, take your ear muffs.

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