Air America (1990)

(Second Viewing, In French, On TV, December 2016) There are two different movies within Air America, both of them clamouring for attention in various ways. The first film is an exciting buddy comedy portraying the insanity of pilots during the Vietnam war, using their planes as trucks to go from one place to another doing side deals on their own or on behalf of their shadowy masters. It’s a movie with terrific aerial stunts (the best of which is a Los Angeles-set highway confrontation between a helicopter and an 18-wheeler) that combine airplanes and explosions to good effect. Unfortunately, the second film is a far more conventional tale of a drug-running conspiracy being revealed and defeated, men learning better and criticizing the excesses of war. That second film ultimately overwhelms the first with a foregone everyone-is-a-hero conclusion that can be seen coming from miles away. The tension between the two is never resolved, and if Air America does retrospectively stand as an early example of the geo-sardonic subgenre that would become one of the default Hollywood modes of grappling with geopolitical issues (from Lord of War and The Hunting Party to, more recently, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot or War Dogs), it clearly doesn’t quite know how to dose the two parts of its execution. At least Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr (looking far too young) are in fine form as the two mismatched partners, and the pre-CGI aerial stunts do have a kick to them.

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