Airborne (1998)

In the 90’s one of the biggest stars of the 80’s returned to acting and attempted to reinvent themselves as an action star. Steve Guttenberg had an amazing few years in with 80’s at the box office with Police Academy and three of the subsequent sequels, Cocoon, Surrender, Short Circuit, High Spirts and the Three Men and a Baby juggernaut. He was a busy guy resulting in taking a 5 year career break from movies. His return to movies in the latter half of the 90’s saw him play similar, likeable roles that he had played prior to the break.

In 1998 he shook this up by doing back to back action movies and I have had the pleasure of seeing both. The first was a cheap Days of Thunder style direct-to-video race movie called Overdrive, I caught this on Sky one night in the later 90’s and it did not leave much of an impression on me. Since then the film has not seen a release outside of a VHS. The second is the little less obscure yet equally unimpressive Airborne and here’s what I think of it.

Steve plays a member of a special ops team who are charged with retrieving a biological weapon that has fallen into the hands of some dastardly foes. Using some daring do and surprisingly passable CGI Steve and his team succeed, however their methods and results are challenged by a slimy official (played to perfection by Kim Coates) and before you know it the team being eliminated one by one and Steve is on the run framed for murder and being just toooo darn tough.

Airborne features some cheaply produced action sequences that fail to excite on any basic level. The first action sequence seeing Steve transfer from one plane to another and gain entry is the height of this films excitement, and I admit, it isn’t bad. However, once aboard the plane with his team the continuing action as the weapon roles across the floor and the team tangle with the terrorists feels more like a spoof by the Zucker brothers than a tense thriller.

There is a genuinely good cast at work here. Coates does his slightly witty, untrustworthy arsehole character we loved from Lethal Tender. Colm Feore is the team’s commander calling the shots, keeping the team together and enjoying the role. Feore is dynamic and likeable, dropping his lines like a pro, much like Torri Higginson as the team’s only female member. The three actors give the audience something worth watching and elevate the film greatly.

Sean Bean has a couple of scenes in the film and is the second oddest casting decision. Airborne was released 5 years after Patriot Games, 3 years after is iconic performance in Goldeneye, 2 years after cult classic When Saturday Comes and the same year as his memorable turn in Ronin. Airborne, a Canadian direct-to-video action movie, is such a bizarre entry into the exceptional run of films he had going on.

The elephant in room is Steve Guttenberg playing the central action hero. There is no doubt that he satisfies the physical requirements of being an action hero and, in other productions, has proved his acting ability. In Police Academy we saw Guttenberg get involved in some action sequences with the routine stunt show at the end of each movie and The Bedroom Window saw him confront a psychotic killer and tangle with him. However, his gruff voice and miserable delivery doesn’t help the transition and obviously impacted any ideas of continuing the with a Guttenberg – Action Hero for Hire campaign. The blame would sit squarely with director Grant for letting this character happen and committing to it for the duration. From time to time I think even Guttenberg had trouble delivering his lines with a straight face. In the years since I had first watched this I got it into my head that Steve wore an eyepatch and large scar on his cheek, much like Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series. I was wrong.

Julian Grant struggles with the pacing as there are constant lulls and he just does not know what to do with Guttenberg’s character. Grant was the producer of Lethal Tender and should understand lightening things up probably would have alleviated a number of the problems. The focus of the film is very lost jumping about but never settling. We are behind Guttenberg, however, his character is barely functional outside of being grumpy or grieving. The story follows the virus as it swaps hands from the goodies to baddies to goodies and so on. Guttenberg and Higginson seem to move from one hideout to another, and need to rest every 10 minutes, before their cover it blown by someone inside the small group of characters and they have to embark on another slow motion chase.

There is a constant hint that there might be a love story hiding round the corner between Guttenberg and Higginson, however, it never arrives and on the one hand that makes for a refreshing approach (how Higginson’s character could ever fall for Guttenberg’s moody monster is too big of a stretch.) On the other it might have given the film something to do with their heroes other than hide, run, hide, take a bath, run, hide. In an attempt to keep the film from coming to a halt action sequence after action sequence is jammed in, however, the frequency of the action means the quality suffers and by the time we get to the climax the use of slow motion and the ineptitude become tiresome. Once the climax rolls around the audience is ready for a showdown with an entertaining pay off and for a cheap action movie, it’s worth hanging around for, despite limitations and a wild misunderstanding of how magnets work with aluminium.

I like Steve Guttenberg a great deal and this is a very interesting period in his career. I’m glad we have a glimpse of what might have been had Guttenberg been in a Die Hard, or Lethal Weapon. From his other performances I dare say that he is a much better actor than we see here and has the hardest job of all the male leads in Feore, Coates and Bean. I can’t praise the film very much at all and it isn’t worth your time finding and taking it in. The tagline for Airborne is “Pray it doesn’t land.” It doesn’t, it splashes down… in the toilet and sinks, might take a few flushes to get rid of it.

Airborne has been released far and wide, there is also a wealth of air to enjoy… all of which seem to favour planes, despite the Airborne of the title described the threat of the virus in the film not really the nature of the action.

Airborne used to be an easy find and for pennies, however, now it’s a tough on, for a reasonable price. I used to own it on VHS, however, struggled to upgrade to DVD recently having to settle for a German version off of Ebay.

If you have money to burn you could purchase this Region 1 form Amazon to ensure you are getting maximum toughness from the Gutt.

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