Critics' Corner

Desson Howe - Weekend section, "As abysmal as abysmal gets."


Rita Kempley - Style section,
"A deafening, brain-deadening action thriller."


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'Broken Arrow'

Scene from this movie Stealth bomber pilots John Travolta and Christian Slater are zipping across the skies on a predawn exercise, carrying two nuclear missiles, when the trouble starts. Travolta, we learn early, is in cahoots with the usual collection of rogues. After grappling with Slater, he forces the younger pilot to eject, then drops the missiles safely onto the desert floor for the bad guys to retrieve. The rest of the movie involves Slater's bid to recapture and neutralize those weapons. -- Desson Howe Rated R


Director: John Woo
Cast: John Travolta; Christian Slater;
Howie Long; Samantha Mathis
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Filmographies: John Travolta; Christian Slater






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Woo's Broken 'Arrow'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 09, 1996

Once upon a time, mostly during the 1980s, Hong Kong director John Woo made a series of balletically choreographed gangster flicks, including "The Killer" and "Hard-Boiled." His visual mastery in these kinetic, violent operas was indisputable.

But as "Broken Arrow"—John Woo's second American-made movie—shows, his talents have not traveled well. In fact, they haven't traveled at all. Thrown into a system that thrives on compromise, mediocrity and, uh, the English language, Woo (whose English is serviceable at best) has been effectively rendered into a hack.

In "Arrow," which is about as abysmal as abysmal gets, Stealth bomber pilots John Travolta and Christian Slater are zipping across the skies on a predawn exercise, carrying two nuclear missiles, when the trouble starts.

Travolta, we learn early, is in cahoots with the usual collection of rogues (including Fox TV football commentator Howie Long). After grappling with Slater, he forces the younger pilot to eject, then drops the missiles safely onto the desert floor for the bad guys to retrieve.

The rest of the movie involves Slater's bid to recapture and neutralize those weapons. He's assisted (in that action-bimbo kind of way) by park ranger Samantha Mathis, who acts so robotically, you wonder if she sleepwalked out of a Philip K. Dick story.

"I want to know what's going on, and I want to know right now!" she intones, like a ditsy replicant.

You can already tell this movie's in trouble in the opening scene, when Travolta and Slater trade unintentionally fake punches in a sparring match, and Travolta taunts his opponent about not having the will to win. The formulaic patter, word-processed by Graham Yost (who wrote "Speed"), is just the beginning of increasingly mundane "Top Gun"-speak between them. Later, in the bomber, Slater, expresses his thrill of flying: "Where else can you drive a $2 billion plane 800 miles an hour a hundred feet off the ground?"

In terms of Woo's old visual skills, there's less than a screen minute's worth: the gorgeous shot of a bomber, for instance, as it soars like a manta ray above the clouds; or a gasp-inducing moment when a crashing helicopter lands perilously close to Mathis, its rotary blades lacerating the ground around her. Unfortunately, this helicopter nose dive represents—all too symbolically—the state of Woo's filmmaking. Perhaps there's still time for him to turn that whirlybird around—or just bail out.

BROKEN ARROW (R) — Contains violence and profanity.

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'Broken Arrow': A Dud of a Nuclear Bomb

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 09, 1996

Dr. Strangelove, call your office.

"Broken Arrow," a deafening, brain-deadening action thriller, takes a mighty blase approach to nuking Denver. It's hard to believe—scary, really—that placing millions of lives at risk is considered a suitable premise for the genre. It's just a movie, yes, but surely the threat of nuclear holocaust deserves more respect than it gets in this macho cartoon.

Director John Woo, whose Hong Kong melodramas earned him a large cult following and apt comparisons to Sam Peckinpah, is certainly capable of more meaningful movies than "Broken Arrow," which has none of the complexities of character and moody sentimentalism of his previous work. A nonstop cavalcade of explosions, shootouts and chases, it's virtually indistinguishable from any other hyperkinetic action flick.

John Travolta is smug and sneering as Deakins, an Air Force pilot who cops a couple of nuclear warheads and threatens to flatten the Rockies if Uncle Sam doesn't pay the ransom. He is aided in this by a gang of hulking goons (most notably Howie Long) and some generic Middle Eastern types with unclear intentions regarding the "broken arrows." But his former friend and co-pilot, Hale (solid, if unexciting, Christian Slater), attempts to recover the warheads with the help of an annoyingly pert park ranger (Samantha Mathis).

Hale and his new sidekick shoot down helicopters, dodge bullets and manage to detonate one of the bombs in an underground mine. It shakes the dickens out of the American West, but luckily the mine contains the blast and prevents radiation from leaking into the atmosphere. While the feisty couple is thus detained, Deakins and his cronies make off with the second warhead, which leads to the creaky climax—an old-fashioned, seemingly interminable showdown on a freight train.

Graham Yost, who wrote the screenplay, ran into similar difficulty in "Speed," which was also encumbered with two endings. Of course, the situations were fresher, the stars brighter, the villain scarier, the protagonists more likable and the story more suspenseful. "Broken Arrow" should never have been pulled from the quiver.

Broken Arrow is rated R for violence and profanity.

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