Flight Of The Intruder is one of those films that appears and disappears off of the film world radar about as quickly as a stealth bomber. It has had its share of accolades but often passes swiftly into that entertainment night of obscurity. While it is at its core a Vietnam War film, the movie never really appears to be about the war at all. It attempts to capture some of the sartorial wit of Catch 22 while still trying to pass itself off as a serious enough movie. Make no mistake. This film leaves no war cliché unused, particularly in the stilted, sometimes gung-ho dialog of its characters.
Jake “Cool Hand” (Johnson) is a bomber pilot during the Vietnam War. He’s stationed on an aircraft carrier. He’s growing a bit bored with the missions he’s being ordered to fly. Instead of taking out the important military installations he’s assigned to, the locations end up being just empty jungle, or worse. Some of them are simply civilian farms and villages. His morale is already pretty rock-bottom when one of these useless missions catches his plane some serious fire and kills his navigator. Now Jake wants to do something worthwhile, not to mention get a little payback on the enemy. Commander Camparelli (Glover) is growing concerned with the emotional state of his pilot. He tries to keep him reined in as best he can. Enter Jake’s new navigator Lieutenant Commander Cole (Dafoe). This guy loves combat. He’s just volunteered for his third tour of duty. Like Jake, he wants to make some kind of a real difference. Jake convinces him that they should fly an unauthorized mission straight to downtown Hanoi where it is believed there is a stockpile of SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) that are responsible for bringing down a lot of American planes. They know it’s likely a suicide mission and that even if they should survive, a court martial is about the best they can hope for from the service.
The movie begins about as serious as a war film can get. We are witness to some spectacular air battles and the quite messy death of Jake’s partner. With his morose mood to follow, we settle in for a rather somber movie. Then somewhere the film goes completely astray. We’re treated to almost 45 minutes of sheer minutia including a love affair between Jake and a woman at the base played by Rosanna Arquette. The affair really doesn’t develop fully and ends up more a distraction than anything else. There is also a long scene of the boys letting off some steam on R&R. All of this appears to have no connection at all to the plot of the story. Then out of the blue Jake makes his proposition to Cole and the film is back on track and completely serious once again. Here we’re treated to even more thrilling and daring air battle material with the expected flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants heroism we come to these kinds of movies to see. Before we know it, the movie degenerates into the most convoluted of codas I’ve ever seen. Here the duo rushes to the aid of their commander in the longest string of uninterrupted clichés you’ll ever bear witness to. It all comes to a tidy close that has Hollywood stamped clearly from stem to stern. In short: flashes of absolute brilliance marred by tons of distraction and idiocy.
The cast is just as much a mixed bag. While Danny Glover was the big name here at the time, he has very little actual screen time. What he has he makes work, but even Danny Glover can completely salvage his character’s lame dialog. Dafoe is always a quirky character, and this one is no exception. He plays out rather fun, but do we ever get any sense of what drives him? Where things truly derail is with Brad Johnson as Jake. I’m sorry, but he never really appears to want this part. The actor is as disenchanted as the character is to become. Tom Sizemore actually has a nice supporting role here.
Flight Of The Intruder is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20 mbps. The flesh tones are excellent, and the colors are very strong. The print is in pristine condition, with no grain or edge enhancement issues that I noticed. The colors are very rich, which makes the film a pleasure on the eyes. This is especially true of the night attack on Hanoi, where the contrasts and deep blacks make for some spectacular effects. The computer-generated stuff for the air battles does stand out in high definition more, and that’s not exactly a good thing. It doesn’t quite fit and is extremely soft.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has some truly excellent aspects. The environmental effects could certainly be stronger (though they are present), and some obvious opportunities to deploy the rear speakers (airplane engines, explosions) are missed. On the other hand, the left-right separation is purely and simply superb. The movement between the two sides is constant, and with a bit more volume on rear speakers, the audio here could have been something really special.
I tend to have trouble with films that can’t seem to decide what it is they want to be. I wasn’t the only one who had trouble figuring this one out. It did a paltry $14 million at the box office on a $35 million budget. It lasted just three weeks for the most part. Whatever tension and attention the movie earns through some absolutely stunning scenes is quickly squandered. Fans of the film will be happy to have a mediocre Blu-ray release, perhaps. Most of us who’ve seen the film before on DVD believe that “Nobody would go through that again”.