Slipstream (1989) — Luke Skyflyer goes bounty hunting

“I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

Justin’s rating: Game on, man, game on!

Justin’s review: Let me ask you a simple question: Why has no one ever heard of this 1989 movie? After all, it had the backing of Empire Strikes Back and Dark Crystal producer Gary Kurtz, was scored by composer Elmer Bernstein, was directed by the guy who did Tron, and starred Bill Paxton, Mark Hamill, Ben Kingsley, and Hagrid from Harry Potter. In fact, this was the first movie that Hamill did after 1983’s Return of the Jedi, pulling him back into acting for the subsequent decades.

So why did Slipstream — a genuinely decent scifi adventure film — fail to make any sort of impact on ’80s culture? The answer is both simple and depressing. Slipstream never did get a North American release and fizzled in other regions where it briefly appeared in theaters. It bankrupted Kurtz and was buried when it should’ve been enjoyed.

Because Slipstream is actually an enjoyable film, the kind of pleasant discovery that one makes when one goes dumpster diving into the annals of cinema history. And any time I can spend a couple of hours palling around with Paxton and Hamill is time well spent.

Set against a post-apocalyptic earth where the climate has shifted to produce a super-powerful “slipstream” that’s supposedly scoured part of the planet, this film’s only environmental statement is that Big Wind Equals Great Flying Opportunities. It’s up, up in the sky that scoundrel Matt (Paxton) cruises around in his light airplane until one day he steals a quarry from a pair of police officers to turn the bounty in for himself.

The bounty in question is Byron (Jurassic Park’s Bob “Clever Girl” Peck), a philosophical android with a penchant for healing people and making statements about God. He’s also quite cool with people dragging him around, even though the movie implies he could get loose any time he wanted to.

Byron and Matt’s mostly journey around this changed world turns Slipstream into a kind of lighthearted road trip movie that’s all ’80s even without the legwarmers. As the pair get to know each other and help out various survivors of the apocalypse, they’re chased by Tasker (Hamill) and Belitski (Kitty Aldridge), a cop duo who are competent, amusing, and sometimes friendly — even if they’re supposed to be the “bad” guys here.

I loved how Matt in all his extreme mullet glory kept trying to hit on Belitski while making all sorts of boastful statements that you know sounded better in his head than when spoken out loud. Paxton’s kind of straddling a line between his more admirable and more scuzzy roles, mostly settling on an affable pre-Chris Pratt type of air. He’s also got a bit of a bromance going on with Byron too, which grows as the movie rolls into its second act.

Slipstream sometimes comes across as a commercial for tiny airplanes (and kites), but even without a huge special effects budget, it still crafts an epic (if meandering) journey. It’s the movie’s tone that made it work for me: cheery, sincere, and non-ironic in its straight-forward exploration of a strange world. Hamill is having some fun playing against type, too, but he’s not so unlikable as to erase goodwill that he earned as the hero of my childhood. I guess we’d have to wait until The Last Jedi for that (cheap shot)!

Didja notice?

  • Full business suits are perfect for cross-country jogging
  • Airplane wings for a bartop
  • Bill Paxton done and got himself a mullet. I love it when he takes scuzzy roles.
  • This movie is an advertisement for light-wing aircraft
  • The flying music is so very ’80s
  • That’s a big hot tub
  • Nothing like getting a biblical funeral
  • A people kite!
  • Androids don’t mind being strapped onto the tops of planes and kites
  • Any landing you can walk away from…
  • Libraries are awesome in any time period
  • Aww pug!
  • Audiences everywhere demanded MORE dancing scenes, MORE!
  • Android vs. airplane

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