Air America [Retro Review]

“Anything, anywhere, any time. That’s our motto.”

The Scoop: 1990 R, directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr., Nancy Travis and Burt Kwoulk

Tagline: The Few. The Proud. The Totally Insane.

Summary Capsule: Gung-ho pilots forge the uncharted territories of Laos to form the first McDonald’s in the country.

Justin’s Rating: Let’s just pull out of this tailspin now, shall we?

Justin’s Review: Trying to break into the overcrowded field of Vietnam comedy movies is about as easy as slipping on a tube top and grinding to your own lip-synched lyrics in order to get a spot on MTV. But Mel “Gallipoli” Gibson and Robert “Live from a Prison Near You” Downey Jr. give it their best shot. Good for them, I say. Keep the world laughing through an intensely bloody military conflict… ahhh.

Air America is the story of two men, their joysticks, and a few thousand miles of pure unadulterated rice patty fields. Like Nebraska, except here the rednecks shoot at you. With higher caliber guns, at least. Set in Laos in the late 60s, Air America is the unofficial plane escort outfit that ships weapons, food and everything else under the sun to the “good” guys. Gene (Gibson) is the experienced pilot, sticking with the outfit just to further his own plans for profit and security. Billy (Downey Jr.) is the brash rookie with Han Solo flying skills and a general gullibility about the war.

Air America would have you believe that it’s the next generation of M*A*S*H. The American pilots (strictly civilians) scoff at the U.S. Military Intelligence officers who constantly put them in harm’s way. The movie is funniest when it’s a battle of wits between the witless and the Air Warrior. Few actors have the talent to ramble a torrent of jokes while keeping a mostly straight face like Gibson can. He reprises the wisecracking slightly-crazy man routine from his Lethal Weapon roles, and there’s nothing to complain about there.

There’s a number of flying sequences that evoke vivid images of Top Gun, as long as you substitute big bulky cargo prop planes for sleek jets armed with missiles and cannons. Whee. I am in flavor country now.

The comedy is good and strong, like a female wrestler with a goblet of deep red wine, but Air America does falter when it comes to injecting the more serious aspects of war. I want to laugh, but it’s no longer funny. This dramedy mix isn’t as effective as M*A*S*H, because Air America’s characters actually start to care by the film’s end and lose most of their irreverence. I’m not sure what kind of unique statement that AA is trying to make… perhaps that the rogue smuggling American civvie is much more honorable than the dedicated military officer.

So while Air America is not my major religion or anything, it’s a cheeky enough watch to make it into my VCR every now and then. If only to remind myself what Robert Downey Jr. looked like before the orange jumpsuit..

This picture just makes me happy.

Intermission!

  • Airlifting pigs… why didn’t anyone think of this before?
  • Oh come on… big bad pilots doing coloring books in the middle of high-adventure flying… that’s comedy!
  • When Gene and Billy jump out of the helicopter, the landing mat is visible under the brush.
  • Air America spawned a spin-off of the same name in 1998, which barely lasted a few episodes.

Groovy Quotes:

Gene: [on a mini putt-putt course] A little taste of the states… you feel better?
Billy: Yeah, everything’s back to normal now.

Billy: Is that an Uzi?
Gene: Hey, you know, that would make a great TV commercial. Excuse me, is that an Uzi? Why yes it is. Self defense is no laughing matter. That’s why I pack the number one submachine gun, an Uzi. Accept no substitutes.

Rob: Gene, is he dead?
Gene: Well Rob, if he’s not dead, then he’s very, very calm.

Gene: Anything, anywhere, any time. That’s our motto.

Gene: Here at Air America, what’s considered psychotic behavior anywhere else is company policy.

Gene: Why don’t you go home huh? Look at me, look at Neely, we’re all a bunch of trouble junkies, we’ve been mainlining danger and adrenaline for so long nothing else gets us off, it’s kind a sick. Before you pick up the habit and you will pick up the habit. Go back to L.A. and be the weirdest guy in the room again. Whaddya you think?

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Good Morning, Vietnam
  • M*A*S*H
  • Lethal Weapon
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