So once again we have survived.

Drop Zone

tn_dropzoneJohn Badham is pretty much the ultimate journeyman director. Somehow he ended up directing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, but for the rest of his career he’s had a striking lack of voice or character. Rarely horrible or offensive, sometimes pretty good, usually okay and forgettable. And DROP ZONE is his Wesley Snipes movie.

Snipes plays a U.S. Marshal who, along with his brother (Malcolm Jamal Warner – my notes made me realize he has the same initials as Michael Jai White) has to transport a prisoner (Michael Jeter) on a commercial jet. But the prisoner’s unique computer skills make him an asset to a gang of daring criminals who hide guns on the plane, blow a hole in the side and skydive away with the prisoner in tow. And shoot MJW.

Wesley gets suspended but of course investigates the case anyway. He ends up asking for help from “the only person dick-brained enough” to do something like that, Yancy Butler as Jessie Crossman, on-parole troublemaker who runs a skydiving school. She offers him technical consultation, an introduction to the local skydiving community, and (for reasons I didn’t totally understand) lessons. We see Wesley floating on a wave of air to practice the balance, and we see stunt people doing alot of crazy skydiving stunts. The team Wesley’s on is in an exhibition where they compete against the plane-attackers, so that’s how he investigates them.

mp_dropzoneWesley’s always good, but this isn’t one of his better characters. He goes for laughs sometimes, like after his first skydive when he can’t stop “WHOOOOOH”ing about it. But he’s also over-the-edge, as we see in the scene where he traumatizes a little girl who was on the plane, making her un-repress the memories just to get a vague description of one of the guys. He knows he’s horrible but he uses his sweetest talking-to-a-little-kid voice.

It was probly inspired by POINT BREAK – the extreme subculture of thrillseekers who also commit crimes – in this case skydiving onto a government building, stealing coke from an evidence locker and breaking into their computer system to get the names of all undercover DEA officers to sell to drug lords. But POINT BREAK already had skydiving… and Gary Busey. And DROP ZONE has no Bodhi.

I always kinda dig these movies that take some group of people, like firefighter pilots in ALWAYS for example, and depict their world where everybody knows each other and they’re all wildmen and they hate outsiders. Are there really skydiver bars? I have no idea. But if there are, be careful what table you sit at. You might not be able to beat up 2 guys at once like Wesley.

He’s a pretty good fighter. There’s a public restroom fight where he tears out one side of a hanging fluorescent light and swings it down on a guy. Also he busts him through stall door. Those things seem sturdier than that. Jessie gets a fight too – there’s a woman ont he bad guy team – and she busts her head through a copy machine. Have you noticed that copy machines automatically run off a few copies if somebody’s head is smashed in there? You don’t gotta turn it on or push a button or anything.

The best move is the last one: Wesley tackles Busey through a window, then pulls his chute. You see the glass and chute in one shot, I think a stuntman really did it. But Busey has no chute so he just dives straight into the windshield of the getaway truck.

Here’s something kinda cool: Guy Manos, one of three people credited for writing the story, is a world champion skydiver, and apparently coordinated (and in some cases performed) the aerial stunts.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 at 1:56 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Drop Zone”

  1. Badham did DRACULA, right? That film’s version of Mina (as a vampire) terrified me, and the image is forever burned into my brain. I had no idea he directed this movie.

  2. He also directed THE HARD WAY, which I liked because it’s probably the only R-rated comedy Michael J. Fox has ever done (though it would probably be PG-13 now).

  3. I don’t know what it was about the 90s and skydiving; POINT BREAK, DROP ZONE, TERMINAL VELOCITY. For me skydiving has never been very interesting to watch on film. I’m sure it’s awesome in real life, but on film it’s just a lot of whooshing noises and people in brightly coloured nylon shouting “woooo!”.

    When people wonder why Wesley Snipes’ career never took off in a huge way I think of movies like this one. Middle-of-the-road action movies completely lacking in character. Snipes deserved better. One of the few things I remember about it (aside from Busey’s awesome death) is that Snipes and Butler don’t hook up by the end. I don’t know if they were skittish about an interracial romance or what, but it’s noticeable since it’s so similar to POINT BREAK in other ways.

  4. Hey man, Badham’s Blue Thunder is all kinds of awesome. One of my favorite ’80s actioners. I highly suggest you check it out if you haven’t seen it or revisiting it if you haven’t seen it in a while. It still holds up.

  5. CrustaceanHate, i would say Snipes carrer took off, he was one of the biggest action stars, but the IRS problems ruin him.

  6. I have to be one of the few surviving people to actually see this in the theater. I just remember this being a thoroughly boring experience in every way. I think even Wesley Snipes knew he was making a horrible movie, but this was his first huge payday of $7 million. I remember that being a big deal back when this was being shot.

  7. I saw it too, Chitown. Not a great movie, but Busey’s major overkill at the end made the whole thing worth it.

    As for Badham, I think journeyman directors get a bad rap. Don Seigel was a journeyman. The guy who directed CASABLANCA was a journeyman. They’re just competent craftsmen who are capable of doing what’s best for the movie without injecting their own obsessions and fetishes into everything. Sometimes you get a more interesting body of work that way.

    If Badham does have a signature, it’s the breezy action comedy. The two STAKEOUT movies, BIRD ON A WIRE, THE HARD WAY, this one kinda. None of them great, all of them easy to watch. I miss guys like him.

  8. I love The Hard Way, but I think that one was due to Michael J Fox and James Woods going all out and also the extremely over the top performance from Stephen Lang. Badham is mainly just a point and shoot type of director. Nothing wrong with that, but it just makes his movies pretty middle of the road.

  9. It doesn’t have POINT BREAK’s secret weapon, uncredited co-writer James Cameron. And John Badham, as dependable as he is, is still no Katherine Bigelow.

  10. “he ended up directing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, but for the rest of his career he’s had a striking lack of voice or character. Rarely horrible or offensive, sometimes pretty good, usually okay and forgettable. ”

    “If Badham does have a signature, it’s the breezy action comedy. The two STAKEOUT movies, BIRD ON A WIRE, THE HARD WAY, this one kinda. None of them great, all of them easy to watch. I miss guys like him.”

    Wow no love for WARGAMES by name from the locals? That’s my favorite Badham title. True it works mostly because of the clever script (which got a deserving Oscar nod), but he makes the cast work click together rather well. Always thought the climax was well cut, thought out, and executed in sound design.

  11. I saw this one back when I was in Middle School (or possibly even younger). The only thing I remember about it is that when people were skydiving it would start with images of real people in free fall, but when they opened their shoot it would be Wesley Snipes on an obvious sound stage. Even at a young age, this struck me as the director not putting enough effort into the film.

  12. THE HARD WAY is good fun

  13. I’ll throw in my love for Wargames and Badham in general. Blue Thunder’s an 80s classic, as is Stakeout. His movies are fastpaced, very watchable and entertaining, have scripts that make sense, and characters that are actually developed. I’ll take Drop Zone over MI3 and Short Circuit over Super 8 any day (and I’m not even an Abrams hater, I’m just saying I don’t get why every director has to be an auteur these days; I’ll take a journeyman director any day if they can make movies as well as Badham and Donner did)

    Interestingly, before Badham was banished to TV-land, i think i read an interview with him where he weirdly dissed Under Siege 2, which is weird since it totally seems like the type of solid and fun movie he would have made. By the way, wasn’t Drop Zone supposed to be a Steven Seagal movie? I could have sworn I heard that, even though I really can’t seem him doing those skydiving scenes.

    But yeah, I like this movie – it’s like Point Break’s breezier cousin with the same plot but much less on its mind. The action and fight scenes are good (barring the neck-breaking scene taken directly from Die Hard), I like the female lead (not sure if I liked that they didn’t have a love story because it’s too cliche, or didn’t like it because they probably would have had a love story if it wasn’t interracial) and I like that the other members of the skydiving team get big heroic moments too, not just Snipes. And I love that feel-good/cheesy ending with the awesome INXS theme song and the sunset skydiving. (I miss INXS even more than I miss Badham)

  14. Sorry guys, but I freaking love this movie. I’m not denying that it’s for somewhat subjective reasons, but I must’ve seen it ten or twelve times on TV growing up (it was one of those movies that was on every other month) and I never got bored of any of it.

    This movie was made back in the halcyon days where “being able to tell what the fuck is going on during the action scenes” was pretty much still a given instead of something you kinda hoped might be the case, some of the time, etc. (Thanks, shakycam!) So for me the main criteria for liking a movie like this one would be “Would I want to hang out with the people in it?” And the answer to that question with this movie is: “HELL YES”. And while a lot of them are fairly stereotypical and the bad guys aren’t given much characterisation at all, everyone involved just does what they do with such enthusiasm that it’s infectious. I also think that the movie looks and sounds really great, which helps a lot.

    And there’s Swoop! How could you possibly not mention Swoop? Every action movie made should have a Swoop in it. Never has a character who opens his mouth as little as this one does exuded such personality. He’s one of the old-timey equivalents of Stellan Sarsgard from the “Thor” movies – a character that’s just so damn awesome, the movie ends with you wishing there’d been more of him in it.

    Look, I can appreciate Point Break’s “moments” as much as the next guy. If somebody made a “YouTube” highlight reel of surfing bad guys then I’d watch that shit and enjoy it. But the movie as a whole bores the crap outta me. And I don’t think the bad guy is that good! I think the concept is great – the charismatic thrill-seeker bad guy who seduces the hero into taking more and more risks – but come on, it was hardly an original concept even back then (the idea is the basis of just about every other morality tale ever written, updated and applied to the world of surfing), and it’s been done way better since. I think the problem isn’t so much with Swayze – he at least gives it his all, which I’m guessing is why this character has such a following – as with Keanu, because his character is so goddamned boring that I never really “buy” that he’s been seduced into anything. The original “Fast and the Furious” had the exact same problem (and a whole bunch of other problems, but that’s not really something I want go into here). And even the heists were boring! The opening heist from “Beverly Hills Cop 2” had WAY more tension than the Dead Presidents bank robbery from “Point Break”.

    So, even disregarding my original criteria (would I want to hang out with the surfers from “Point Break? No, I certainly would not), the idea that “Point Break” is superior in any way to “Drop Zone” just scrambles my brain. “Drop Zone” is at the very least a competently made action movie with some great visuals and a pumping eighties score. “Point Break” has none of those things. It only has Swayze; and while Swayze certainly tries, he’s really got nothing to work with.

  15. Ah, you know what, disregard my Point Break comments. Yes, the movie sucks, but then so does Hackers, and I freaking love that film. I don’t expect people who aren’t total computer geeks like me to “get” Hackers, and I sure as heck don’t “get” Point Break. That’s no reason for me to “dis” a movie that many people obviously love for some reason, even if I don’t get what that reason is.

  16. I also love this movie. Crisp & clear action, Snipes being a badass, Swoop, Zimmer’s simultaneously epic and cheesey score, Busey, Jeter and some truly awesome skydiving sequences (Swoop cutting loose to catch his pal in trouble is a standout). It belongs to a selection of mid-90s action movies typically deemed mediocre to bad that I just love. Case in point: Terminal Velocity, No Escape, Cliffhanger, Blown Away, Timecop, The Relic, Retroactive etc.

  17. I really liked the female lead in this, Yancy Butler. Gorgeous, talented, and had a strong screen presence. After watching this for the first time a few years back, I went to IMDB to check out what other films she had done (Besides the weak character but solid performance in Hard Target).

    Well, Hard Target and this were her first two films. And pretty much right after them she became a full-day alcoholic, gained weight, and largely disappeared from the business. She came back in 2000 for the Witchblade TV-series, but went away again due to her alcohol problem.

    A shame, she had real potential.

    As for the film, considering how much weak movies Snipes has done, I think this is one of his better ones. A solid action film.

  18. Oh, shit. I didn’t realize that the same director, John Badham, also directed Wargames. That is probably one of my personal favorite films. It’s one of those movies that I love unconditionally. It’s not that I don’t see the film’s faults, but I actually love the film even more because of those faults. And of course it does a lot of things right. I think everyone should have a movie that is far from a “classic” in the traditional sense, but they still love completely. Wargames is that film for me.

  19. RBatty024 – I dunno, I think people generally remember WARGAMES fondly as a damn good thriller from that era.* Remember when clever thrillers didn’t have to be convoluted? I mean even the morality message of the ending fucking works (which on paper could’ve come off as hamfisted).

    As to your “classic” thought, I would apply it to the movie’s spiritual sequel: SNEAKERS (from the same scriptwriters). Not as good as WARGAMES, but I fucking love that movie. A rare occassion where Robert Redford had fun with a fun part in a fun movie. Hopefully WINTER SOLDIER gets something good out of him too.

    *=I don’t know if its actually true, but I remember the anecdote that after seeing it President Reagan seriously asked his Joint Chiefs of Staff if indeed that scenario could actually happen. (The apparently is yes since the movie was inspired by a real-life computer glitch in the 1970s within American military computers which almost started WW3. Apparently the Soviets had a similar situation around the same time too.)

  20. Yancy Butler showed up recently in a couple of SyFy movies and (according to IMDB, but I swear I don’t remember her in it) KICK-ASS. I’m with Tuukka, she was stunning in HARD TARGET and I thought she’d have the kind of high-profile career that Sandra Bullock ended up having. Same with Wesley, probably the hottest young actor in town after JUNGLE FEVER and WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP — but he didn’t sustain it and was overtaken by Sam Jackson, Denzel Washington, and eventually Jamie Foxx. Denzel’s had some clunkers too (JOHN Q, INSIDE MAN, DEJA VU) but he seems to have had better luck or maybe better management than Wesley.

  21. I must be tired but was Paul saying Point Break is a shitty movie? Hogwash sir.

    Oh well, no big thing. I think Terminal Velocity is criminally underrated.

  22. Of course Paul hates POINT BREAK. Everyone in Paulton Abbey hates POINT BREAK. It’s a different world there.

  23. Sternshein and Majestyk – I don’t hate it, it just bores me. I get that other people like it, I’m assuming for the same reason that I like a movie like “Hackers”, but I don’t care about the surfing or the bromance at all so it doesn’t push any of my buttons.

    But just because I was making a comparison like that is no reason to take a dump on something other people DO like, hence my retraction after my first post.

    I also like “Terminal Velocity” a lot, although I’d choose “Drop Zone” if I had to pick between them. They’re essentially completely different movies in everything but their subject matter: in “Drop Zone” it’s very much a case of the plucky group of underdogs taking on the dangerous criminals. It’s a buddy movie. In “Terminal Velocity” there’s no dynamic like this – for most of the movie Charlie Sheen is completely on his own, with nobody believing in his innocence except the girl who set him up in the first place (and who therefore can’t be fully trusted as a result).

  24. The best thing about this film is the Hans Zimmer score, and specially the track that has been used in a lot of trailers for films like The Mask of Zorro and Pirates of Caribbean.

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