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‘Drop Zone’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 09, 1994


John Badham
Wesley Snipes;
Gary Busey;
Malcolm-Jamal Warner;
Michael Jeter;
Yancy Butler
Under 17 restricted

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One should always accentuate the positive. So let's say that "Drop Zone," the new action picture starring Wesley Snipes, will appeal to sky divers the world over. Director John Badham's latest contains exciting -- not to mention extensive -- aerial footage of men and women free falling, swooping, somersaulting and all those gravity-taunting things they feel compelled to do.

Actually, let's not accentuate the positive because, unfortunately, there's a story that tags along -- or drags along -- with all this footage. It's the kind of third-rate movie (are there more than three rates?) that you've seen so many times you could emcee your way through the whole thing, at least 30 minutes ahead of the action. The predictability begins immediately when Snipes, a U.S. marshal, joshes and jibes with brother and fellow agent Malcolm-Jamal Warner, whom he obviously cares for. You know Snipes's Main Man is dead meat. Action heroes need something to get them really motivated, and there's nothing like a lost friend, relative or innocent to do the trick.

The tragedy occurs at 28,000 feet, when Snipes and Warner, accompanying convicted computer hacker (and government witness) Michael Jeter to a federal penitentiary, run into hijackers. No, Snipes is not having a "Passenger 57" flashback. But he does have to play hero in the skies again. Gary Busey, leading a crack team of stunt sky divers, organizes a spectacular jailbreak in which the bad guys blow a hole in the side of the 747 plane and escape by parachute with Jeter in tow. The ensuing depressurization gives Warner an early opportunity to start his next, hopefully better, movie.

Absurdly -- even for an action picture -- Snipes and his late brother are suspected by the feds of causing the on-board accident. (Presumably, the gaping hole in the side of the plane and the many surviving witnesses couldn't clue these idiots in.) Pending the outcome of the investigation, Snipes must give up his badge and gun. This time, as they always say in these films, it's personal.

Let's take a moment to appreciate the fine work of scriptwriters Peter Barsocchini and John Bishop, who imaginatively took "Point Break" (an action flick about surfers), strapped a parachute to its back and hurled it from a plane. Oh, the cliches that tumble from the heavens, like Snipes's convenient pal at the Justice Department, who runs a quick test on an incriminating parachute buckle; or the "wacky" training sequence as Snipes takes a crash course in sky diving; or Snipes's cute buddy-buddying with sky diver-ally Yancy Butler. "Drop Zone" is also a highly educational picture. You learn that, if you're an untrained sky diver and you jump out of an airborne 747, you'll turn into sky chow. You'll also discover this did-you-know? gem: On July 4, when this movie's finale takes place, Washington, D.C.'s normally restricted air space is opened to anyone with a parachute -- or a bad movie idea.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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