"Firefox," Clint Eastwood's new film, looks like a giant bruise, all purplish and murky. At times, you can hardly see the characters as they fret over their strategic charts, blobby maps and clumsy schematics of the Soviet superplane.
"Firefox" may sound bright, hot and racy, but it browns out. Eastwood has an energy crisis as director, producer and star. For one thing, he's looking too dragged-out for dirty work these days. Time either to get a copy of Jane Fonda's exercise book, or call Conan. He mopes through the first couple of hours of film like a bummed-out Michael Caine in "Funeral In Berlin." Meanwhile a cast of lookalike bureaucrats stumble about in subdued lighting, waiting for a script to happen. When it finally does, it's plodding -- and hard to follow in the dark.
The West learns the Russians have a MIG-31 that flies six times the speed of sound with a weapons system activated by thought waves. If the West doesn't steal it, well, there goes the neighborhood, not to mention the balance of power. The only man for the job, says military intelligence, is Mitchell Gant (Eastwood), a former POW with uncontrolled blackouts that render him senseless in tight spots or spaces.
Despite Gant's tendency to flip off, he's suited up to steal the Firefox -- lethal, menacing and the only thing in the film that looks good in dark blue. To get Gant past the troops guarding the jet, we've got to slog through hours of subterfuge in the Soviet subway, meet and murder an array of spies and counterspies, contact the underground and go undercover four times with four different passports. By the time Gant arrives at the hangar and suffers an anxiety attack in the shower, snoring is audible. So when three scientists are shot down to create a diversion to get Gant into the MIG and he's still having a napalm nightmare, some people are just waking. By the time he saunters over the corpses and into the cockpit, even the plane is feeling sluggish.
The MIG, of course, only speaks Russian. No problem. Gant speaks Russian as well as Omar Sharif, and with a mumble takes Firefox off toward sunrise. Contact. Finally the good stuff: aerial shenanigans at mach speeds ending in a dogfight over the Arctic. And enough light to see it. The sky battle was designed by John Dykstra, who sent Luke Skywalker careening down the crevices of Darth Vader's Death Star. Here, it happens in the Ural Canyons, wing tips not quite grazing the rocky outcroppings. The MIGs attack at screaming speeds, blowing out pine trees and kicking up snow.
Despite the "Star Wars" finale, it seems the magnum force was not with Eastwood this film. True, he went every which way but loose for a few dollars more. And that's what he ought to gross, just a fistful, because this isn't good, bad or ugly, it's simply awful.
FIREFOX -- At AMC Skyline, Aspen Hill, Jerry Lewis Cinema, K-B Cerberus, KB Congressional, K-B Crystal, K-B Langley, Laurel Cinema, NTI Landover, Showcase Vienna, Springfield Mall and Tenley Circle. graphics /photo: Clint Eastwood