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Terminal Velocity

tn_terminalvelocityTERMINAL VELOCITY is a pretty funny action mystery full of smartass dialogue and clever action gimmicks. I think it’s an attempt to make up a pulp adventurer type character without the usual treasure hunting or old timey setting. But with the brown leather jacket, the slick hair and the bi-plane.

Charlie Sheen plays Ditch Brody, the womanizing wildman shit-stirrer of the Arizona parachutist community. He’s locally notorious for a string of outrageous skydiving mishaps (or skyhaps), most recently parachuting into a young girl’s birthday party wearing the fake muscles and ass from his standard (probly disappointing) bachelorette party routine. Then one day a beautiful woman (Nastassja Kinski) comes in wanting a lesson from him. She acts like a giggly first-timer but is clearly up to something. He’s too horny to pick up on it, and even touches her ass on the way into the plane. Not professional.
mp_terminalvelocityWell, the jump doesn’t go as expected, and all the sudden Ditch is mixed up in some intrigue involving an accidental death investigation, some thugs who murdered the woman’s roommate, a mysterious jet, the KGB, and who knows what else. Another bad day at work.

It’s a pretty good version of this type of adventure-romance where they kinda bicker and don’t trust each other but eventually learn more about each other and the situation and prove themselves to each other through heroic, character-revealing choices and actions. The woman is generally way ahead and willing to use Ditch’s stupidity against him, not always being honest with him even pretty late in the movie, and he rages about it in a funny way. So it doesn’t have that outmoded damsel in distress type of story.

Also, once she’s revealed to be more than who she said she was she’s able to slap him on the ass as payback for earlier. I like how it leaves his casual sexism hanging long enough that it seems like you’re supposed to be okay with it.

This is about as good of a use as there is for the Charlie Sheen persona. He’s an arrogant asshole, not nearly as cool as he thinks he is, and constantly being shown up, but there’s something kinda likable about his delusional insistence on his own greatness.

Melvin Van Peebles is in the movie as a wise pilot named “Noble,” but he’s not in it that much. Since it was the ’90s there’s a guy (comedian Suli McCullough) who obsessively videotapes everything (his job is to record jumps for paying clients) and I mention him because his name is Robocam. I only noticed this on IMDb, but there’s a helicopter newscaster played by Lori Lynn Dickerson, whose only major acting job was as the love interest in BLOODSPORT 2.

I kinda like the bad guys. Christopher McDonald (BREAKIN’) with bleach blond hair and looking bulky under a baggy leather jacket is one of the two lead thugs who break into the apartment and dunk her roommates head in an aquarium. After the murder they’re in their car about to pull out and he turns to the other guy and says, “You were good up there.” It’s dumb little moments like this that endeared the movie to me.

Another one is when the deputy D.A. (SPOILER – played by the late James Gandolfini, that’s a spoiler because obviously he’s actually the bad guy) is waiting with Ditch for an important rendezvous and he nervously offers him a Certs. I don’t know why that’s funny, if it was gum or a generic mint it would be nothing, but the fact that he specified Certs made me laugh.

The stunt coordinator is Buddy Joe Hooker, and of course you get to enjoy lots of real parachute and plane type stunts. The most elaborate one involves flying a plane upside down and walking across the wing.

It’s funny, people used to make fun of obvious switches to stuntmen, but these days it’s more like a badge of honor. Hey, somebody really did this part. Admittedly though some of the cooler action stuff in this is the obviously fake stuff, like when he drives a car out of a plane (long story), then has to fight off McDonald and open the trunk in mid-air. There’s a nice amount of action fake outs – oh good, their chutes did open. Oh no, they’re headed right for that explosion. Oh good, they steered clear. Oh no, they steered off a cliff and the chute is burned by the explosion. Oh good, they have another chute. Oh no, they’re headed for a bunch of windmills…

I credit that roller coaster sense of fun to writer David Twohy, creator of Riddick. In a way maybe it’s a precursor to the fun twistiness of A PERFECT GETAWAY. Maybe one of these days I’m gonna have to watch all the Twohy movies I haven’t seen. Did you know he wrote WARLOCK and CRITTERS 2?

The director though is Deran Sarafian, son of recently deceased Richard Sarafian (VANISHING POINT) and director of DEATH WARRANT. After this he became a prolific TV director starting with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and continuing as recently as Hell on Wheels. He was also an actor in the Charles Bronson movie 10 TO MIDNIGHT and in ZOMBI 3.

One funny part that doesn’t deliver 100% is the backstory that Ditch was a gymnast that was gonna be in the Olympics the year the Americans boycotted. It’s worth it for the jokes about Ditch’s quest for Russian gold, but would it have killed them to have him do a handspring or something? We’ve already established that we’re okay with stunt doubles. Come on, you got gymnastics in the arsenal. Bust ’em out.

I guess this got terrible reviews and was considered a flop, but it seems hard to hate to me. It has a distinctive tone and sense of fun. It has that warm feeling of an underappreciated ’90s also-ran. Here’s an idea of the times we were living in: it debuted at #2 at the box office behind TIMECOP. Other actiony movies still playing in theaters at that time were less b-movieish though: CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, TRUE LIES, THE NEXT KARATE KID and SPEED.


This entry was posted on Friday, November 15th, 2013 at 1:07 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.

35 Responses to “Terminal Velocity”

  1. I remember this as another early 90s flick heavily influenced by Point Break.

  2. This review made my day Vern. I love this movie unabashedly, mostly for all the reasons you state. It kinda reminds me of Big Trouble in Little China as the hero is this loveable loudmouth who says and does stupid things while his sidekick constantly shows him up. It also has some of the best dialogue of the ’90s (“Isn’t that the K.G.Used-to-Be?”) and is one of my favorite Charlie Sheen flicks. If you feel like digging into his back catalouge of lesser known movies, I’d suggest checking out the vastly underrated Under Pressure (AKA: Bad Day on the Block) directed by Craig R. Baxley. He gives a very believable and scary performance in that.

  3. Oh yeah, that weird time when they tried to make an action star out of Charlie Sheen.
    I don’t remember much about that movie, except that I laughed my ass off at the way the villain died.

  4. For vintage Sheen, look no further than MEN AT WORK, the finest film the Brothers Estevez ever made together. I know you don’t normally review comedies, Vern, but Keith David has a badass monologue that displays a consummate commitment to his role of shellshocked Vietnam vet-turned-officious garbageman inspector.

  5. While I have a soft spot for this my favorite 90’s action Sheen has to be his biker flick BEYOND THE LAW. With Madsen and Fiorentino in support it just doesn’t get any better. Also it’s “based on a true story”. Vern I’d love to read your thoughts on it.

  6. I love MEN AT WORK. It’s a classic action/comedy.

    I didn’t realize Twohy wrote this one. The latest RIDDICK movie popped into my head when you were talking about the ass slapping and casual misogyny. Good to see he’s staying true to form? I actually didn’t mind it in RIDDICK, even though I probably should.

    I don’t remember a whole lot about this one, but I know I enjoyed it at the time.

    I do think it’s interesting that both this one and the Wesley Snipes skydiving movie co-star women who I always think of as alien or foreign. Kinski is obviously foreign, but I’ve always found Yancy Butler to be eerie in an alien kind of way. Is it like skydiving is dangerous and would only attract a dangerous kind of woman? Ones that men are attracted to even if it seems like she might drive an ice pick into him or suck his brains out after sex? But, I’m not a guy, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about and they’re just hot women.

  7. I do remember enjoying this. Didn’t Kinski have the line about “The KG used to be?” Yeah, y’know, Vern mentioned some of the titans of 90s action up there–Speed, True Lies, and Clear And Present Danger, which was probably the most overall badass Tom Clancy adaptation (it WAS co-written by John Milius)–but this was a time when almost all studio action movies delivered. Even Timecop has some good moments. And Next Karate Kid had a young Hilary Swank in spandex tights.

  8. I can’t remember if you’ve reviewed it or not Vern, but for more Sheen/Twohy goodness make sure to check out The Arrival. Soooo good.

  9. The Wraith was a pretty cool Sheen film from the mid 80’s.

  10. Yeah, it says something about how standards seem to have dropped if “Drop Zone” and this one were considered BAD examples of action movies at the time they came out.

    I find “Terminal Velocity” a very enjoyable ride, with Charlie Sheen easily managing to summon enough charisma to make his character more of a charming rogue and less of an out-and-out asshole. There are enough little bits that make it stand out (ass-slapping included) to make it superior IMO to a lot of more “formula” action movies.

    And thinking about the era, I genuinely miss movies like these. For the last few years it’s felt as though if you wanted to see a “straight” mainstream action movie then it’s gotta have shakycam, it’s gotta be aimed very much at the teenage audience, or it’s gotta be based on a comic book of some kind. Things seem to have improved over the last couple of years though, with movies like “The Raid”, “The Last Stand”, the last two “Fast / Furious” movies and various others opening up several welcome new directions for the genre to take.

  11. Jack, it’s probly not as positive as you’d like, but if you’re interested I did write a review of UNDER PRESSURE back in 2006:

    http://www.outlawvern.com/2006/09/15/under-pressure/

  12. Wasn’t he going by Charles Sheen in that one? Yeah, nice try, Carlos.

  13. Good stuff, Vern. I should’ve known you’d be on top of that. I always had a soft spot for those “From Hell” movies from the ’90s, so that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much.

  14. Love “Men at Work.” It’s good Charlie Sheen.

    For bad-but-fun Sheen, I recommend “The Chase.”

  15. I’ve only seen Terminal Velocity once (in the bygone VHS era), but I recall enjoying it. Mostly because of marveling at how more hot Natassia Kinski was then (in her mid-30s) compared to back when she did Cat People. Plus in the movie’s badass stakes she basically overshadows Sheen, who comes across as a horndog putz.

    Now, by comparison Men At Work is the tits, even if it’s a bit amateurish (Emilio’s second outing as a director, if I remember correctly). The Brothers Estevez play well off each other, but Keith David owns this movie [see typically astute Mr. M analysis above]. “Never mess with a man’s fries!”… damn skippy, Keith. How funny would it have been (both funny ha-ha and funny weird) had they made some obtuse reference to his character being the same guy from Platoon?

    Although the outcome was still undecided, Sheen won The Battle Of The Bizarre Breakfast Shakes (versus Arnold in End Of Days) in Men At Work by tossing the following into the kitchen blender:
    Cold coffee
    The semi-melted remains of a pint of Haagen Daz
    The dregs of a bottle of Jagermeister
    Two aspirin.

    Never tried that myself; always meant to at some point. I believe Arnold’s consisted of two slices of leftover pizza, the dregs of a beer, some Nestle’s Quik, and who knows what else. Ugh!— gnarly, dude.

    I need to watch both these movies again.

  16. I seem to remember this film giving us the line: “Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip.” Excellent work indeed.

  17. Vern, you gotta review MEN AT WORK. Keith David has some awesome lines in this.

  18. What’s the ACR Vern? Got to be at least a 4 hasn’t it? In fact this was back when a 4 was probably standard. Count me in a one who loves this movie. It’s funny, exciting, has a great cast hamming it up (McDonald pulling out that knife and saying “this is my card”) with some pretty good lines as mentioned above. Man I loved the mid-90s, my teenage years.

  19. Makes my heart glad to see this goofy movie get some love. Sheen’s line “Careful, I may have to marry you…” made it’s way into a number of my failed attempts at wooing the gals down at the roller disco.

    90s weren’t so bad.

  20. “Don’t worry I have my CoffeeTron Dick Defender!”

    How did this not get a Best Screenplay nom? Oh yeah, that’s right, it came out the same year as Pulp Fiction.

  21. As you all can see from the usual Amazon link, Terminal Velocity is reasonably priced. But a new copy DVD of Men At Work from Amazon will run you (no shit) $31.99.

    Is it now considered an overlooked comedy classic, or did Emilio convince whoever to jack up the price as a way of taking pity on Charlie’s various child support payments? (he’s not making 2 And 1/2 Men beaucoup bucks anymore). Fortunately the used DVD prices are much more reasonable.

  22. it’s weird to think there was a time when Charlie Sheen was like, an actual actor who starred in real movies and stuff and not a dumbass goofball who stars on a Godawful sitcom that no one actually likes

  23. It is hard to imagine him making a movie like PLATOON these days.

  24. I can’t decide if i liked this one more or less than Drop Zone. There’s definitely less skydiving action here, but it actually incorporates skydiving in its climax instead of a fistfight/shootout in an office building, so there’s that. Plus Sheen and Kinski are great, the tone is light and fun, and yeah, I love the ending with TRIPOD. My only complaint I can think of is I didn’t like the way the villain dies is recycled from the bearhug/grenade bit from Raising Arizona/Rambo III (I could never remember which came first).

    Deran Serafian also did the criminally underrated Gunmen, which I namedrop too often here. Oh, and I’m glad to see the Men at Work love, it’s a 90s classic. I often joke the Hemsworth brothers should do a reboot but I would actually love to see that, they could pull it off.

  25. Pegsman – given his involvement with the “Scary Movie” franchise, honestly I have trouble now thinking of him making a movie that ISN’T like “Hot Shots”. I’d definitely like to see him return to more dramatic roles – he was very good at them once – the trouble being, would anybody have him in that kind of a role now? Sometimes the public persona of a celebrity just becomes too much to separate from the character they’re trying to play.

    It’s unfortunate really… by turning himself into a public joke, he’s really cut off a lot of his options when it comes to serious film roles. It’s saying something about where your career’s headed when David Hasselhoff now has more credibility as a “serious” film actor than you do.

  26. I am glad you singled out the stunts of Buddy Joe Hooker, “Terminal Velocity” is an underrated “dumb ass movie”, but made memorable by it’s incredible stunt work. Aldo I did like Sheen in this, I agree this is the best use of his screen persona and what appears to be his real-life attitude. Plus, I didn’t know the director once co-starred with the great Bronson, that gets a seriously large amount of cool cred.

  27. Paul, I don’t think he turned himself in to a public joke on purpose. I think his drug addiction, and possible mental illness, took that choice away from him. I saw his infamous interview on Good Morning America when it happened, before it blew up everywhere, and I had wished there was someone else there with me because it was one of those moments where you need someone else to confirm that your “…the hell?”

    It’s not like he was on route to win Oscars for the past decade or so, but he had some potential there at one time and even when he wasn’t doing Oscar worthy work, like in PLATOON, he was still entertaining in movies like this and it’s sad to see him turned into a joke, even if he started himself down that path with his poor life choices. I can’t say I don’t use “winning” in a joking manner, but it also troubles me how we, as a society, joke and gawk at someone’s life clearly spiraling down the drain. Hopefully he can turn it around.

  28. Maggie – I agree, and yes, I didn’t mean it was deliberate or anything.

  29. Sorry, Paul, I didn’t think you meant it deliberately. I just thought it should be said that it’s kinda sad.

  30. Man, I remember seeing both this and DROP ZONE in the cinema, and being the only one of my friends who enjoyed either one in any way. I seem to remember this one was more fun, and it got me to keep an eye out for Serafian (which led to seeing GUNMEN), but I honestly can’t remember either too well. Reading these reviews makes me want to check them out again, as I’m also finding that a lot of older pre-CG action stuff holds up much better on the filmatism front than DTV stuff this century (with the usual exceptions regularly cited on this cite).

  31. Rewatched this today, for the first time since it came out on VHS. Very enjoyable throwaway 90s actioner, and it reminded me I really need to check out DROP ZONE.

    Deran Sarafian had a brief, but underrated feature career leading up to this, his last feature before moving on to television. DEATH WARRANT holds up better than the other early Van Damme vehicles, and I have fond memories of Sarafian’s two collaborations with Christopher Lambert. GUNMEN is a cinemascope homage to Sergio Leone that teams Lambert with Mario Van Peebles, has a wheelchair-bound Patrick Stewart, Dennis Leary as a villain, and a script by Stephen Sommers (which means it is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, and Lambert/Van Peebles make for a strange buddy duo…where’s the review Vern?!). THE ROAD KILLERS (aka ROADFLOWER) is one of those ‘maniac loose on the highway’ flicks with a cast that looks way better today than it did back then (Lambert, Craig Sheffer, David Arquette, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It’s written by the director’s brother, Tedi Sarafian (also co-wrote TERMINATOR 3), and a third Sarafian brother appears as an actor. Apart from being the sons of Richard Sarafian, these guys are also the nephews of Robert Altman.

  32. Fucking FINALLY got to watch Terminal Velocity again, and what a chore it was. Ordered (via Vern’s Amazon link) a regular DVD copy (which also included Firebirds starring Nic Cage and sone obscure pre-Morpheus Lawrence Fishburne effort titled Bad Company).

    Marked DELIVERED on 11/21 on my Amazon account, and the fucking thing went to an address not mine. Close, but not mine. So it’s nagging at me, I still GOTSTA see it, and two nights ago I ordered the standalone Terminal Velocity Blu-Ray.

    And, of course, yesterday my missing mail finally gets delivered correctly. D’OH!

    Hadn’t seen it in nearly 20 years; loved it! It’s testament to how rote today’s action movies are that an obscure cheesy 80’s movie holds up even better now. One thing I noticed is that XXX, made 8 years later, owes a big debt to this movie. Russian woman not who she seems, ex-KGB, pretty much leads this alpha male around by the balls for much of the movie, then his skill sets save the day at the end of the movie. Replace Kinski with Argento, Sheen with Diesel, Gandolfini with Marton Csokas, and Christopher McDonald with that Yorgi dude. Not too far apart.

    Still, it would’ve been nice had they made Ditch, let’s say, an ex-downhill skier instead of… a gymnast? More manly. Plus his nickname should’ve been different:

    2-3 women ask him at various points : “Ummm… why do they call you Gooch?”.
    “Here, I’ll show ya!” (drops trou, bends over). No harm in a running dirty joke.

    Great fucking movie… and an excellent call, Vern. For once I’m not pissed about double-dipping.

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