It’s weird that there’s a studio action-thriller starring Jeff Bridges (THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT) and Tommy Lee Jones (ROLLING THUNDER) from the prime year of 1994, and I never bothered to see it before. I think I heard it was bad at the time, but when did that ever stop me? I think more recently I’ve seen people writing fondly about it, and I realized it was directed by Stephen Hopkins (following DANGEROUS GAME, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD, PREDATOR 2 and JUDGMENT NIGHT), so I got myself excited to see it.
I’m afraid the early rumors weren’t wrong, though – this is a laughable movie, and not entirely in the way that I enjoy. On the positive side, it will be fun to write about, and seeing this type of studio thriller craftsmanship did give me some of that particular warm nostalgia I was looking for. You know, you’ve got all this production value, on location shooting, glorious crane shots (cinematographer: Peter Levy, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, BROKEN ARROW, TORQUE), and composer Alan Silvestri (THE DELTA FORCE, PREDATOR, THE ABYSS) admirably does his thing without giving in to the temptation to just do a bunch of Celtic cliches.
It seems like he would’ve because this is an (Australian directed) American movie about Irish people, and I say this without any specialized knowledge, but these sure seem like some cartoony stereotype Irishmen to me. I don’t really go for judging the accuracy of accents, but there’s no getting around how hard it is to accept Tommy Lee Jones doing an Irish accent to play IRA bomber Ryan Gaerity, who orchestrates a spectacular escape from a castle prison on a cliff and goes to America to get revenge on the guy who got him busted. It could be the most authentic accent ever performed, it would still clash with the unmistakable face and voice of Tommy Lee Jones in a way that never stops being comical. I suspect they knew that making him say “buggered” and “telly” and shit wasn’t enough to make it work, and that’s why they took the funniest possible “no, seriously though, he’s Irish” route: having him listen to (and sing along with) U2 in multiple scenes. In fact, they also went for the most recognizable U2 songs – “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Just to make sure you know this is Irish music. From Ireland. That’s why he listens to it.
While watching I was joking it would have a House of Pain song on the end credits, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that Hopkins already had them on the JUDGMENT NIGHT soundtrack! Sadly they went with Joe Cocker and Bekka Bramlett instead. I would’ve given the movie more leeway if I got to hear some earnest Irish-Americans rapping the character names at the end. Come to think of it, why not another cross-genre team up soundtrack – Method Man and the Cranberries, Gang Starr and Enya, Das EFX and Sinead O’Connor, Naughty By Nature and The Pogues? You could’ve been beautiful, BLOWN AWAY.
Jones is obviously having fun, maybe too much in my opinion, with many of his scenes just being alone being very pleased with himself as he plots his sinister plans and builds his deadly bombs. He has one scene where he’s disguised as a janitor to spy, and another where he takes on an American persona to have a menacing fake-innocent encounter with the hero’s daughter on a beach. I guess that could be scary, but I just have a hard time not laughing at him after he does such rookie “dude wouldn’t that be scary if” cliches as threateningly whistling “Pop Goes the Weasel” in two different scenes. I don’t usually say this, but it’s just so stupid. I mean no disrespect to Tommy Lee Jones or the artform of mega-acting, but for my tastes this, NATURAL BORN KILLERS and BATMAN FOREVER are the worst performances he ever gave, and they all came out in ’94 or ’95. Maybe the increased celebrity of THE FUGITIVE (1993) knocked him off his game. I suspect Strannix in UNDER SIEGE (1992) is the top level of energy he can get to while still being fun to me instead of annoying. Or maybe these performances would all work for me if the movies around them did too.
The hero is Lieutenant Jimmy Dove of the Boston Bomb Squad, a proud Boston guy who goes around Bostoning with all his Boston bro buddies. It’s very similar to BACKDRAFT in the way it worships the working class, emotionally closed off veterans of a specific profession and region, who are so proud to work too much and risk their lives and stress out their loyal wives and celebrate it over too many beers for hours after work, and they’re all like family at the weddings and the funerals and let’s say one of their brothers gets killed in the line of duty, that doesn’t mean they won’t all forget about it and get vocally invested in a ball game during the wake and really that’s what he would’ve wanted anyway, he wouldn’t want anybody to honestly face loss or mortality or vulnerability because he was one of us, one of the boys.
It’s already comically self conscious about that before taking into account the premise that Jimmy Dove is in fact Liam McGivney, a former member of Gaerity’s terrorist cell who got cold feet and tried to stop one of his bombs and then moved to Boston under an assumed identity and had a long, very successful career becoming the most celebrated hot shot on the bomb squad. I swear it was at least a half hour into the movie before I noticed Bridges doing an accent, and then I really couldn’t figure out if he was trying to do Bostonian or Irish or some combination.
I suppose it’s kind of interesting that the hero of the movie is such a catastrophic fuck up. Even setting aside that he’s lying to his family and friends for most of the movie, he’s also that more recognizable type of deadbeat who shows up ridiculously late to his young daughter (Stephi Lineburg, RI₵HIE RI₵H)’s huge birthday shindig, makes a big show of giving her an expensive Casio keyboard, then like two minutes later gets a phone call and leaves to come very close to dying while defusing a bomb that no one asked him to deal with at all.
After that bullshit he finally, finally, finally retires and marries his long suffering violinist girlfriend Kate (Suzy Amis, FIRESTORM). But at the hotel on his god damn wedding night he goes out onto the balcony to call in and check on a bomb situation. It goes bad and he actually sees the explosion from across town! When he realizes his secret arch-nemesis is behind it he pushes himself back onto the force for this one last case. Kate only gets fed up with him halfway through the movie when she finds out that he’s been hiding being a secret Irish terrorist the whole time. But she seems to forgive him immediately.
My favorite character and performance is bomb squad rookie Franklin (Forest Whitaker, BLOODSPORT, A RAGE IN HARLEM), a socially awkward weirdo who nevertheless is so cocky that he attends Dove’s wedding with the other guys and goes up and introduces himself as “your replacement.” Dove later becomes an instructor and singles Franklin out for humiliation – they work the case together and Franklin saves his life, not necessarily seeming to win his respect, but allowing him to take credit for Dove’s later heroism.
But the funniest character is Max (Lloyd Bridges, HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID), Dove’s jolly old man friend who is over 100 times more Irish than even Gaerity. I’m not sure, but I think he might connect this one to the DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE Cinematic Universe. His passions include fishing, being very Irish, saying very Irish things, and sitting in his small hot tub thinking about Ireland. He’s a retired cop, but apparently has some kind of connection to the ol’ terrorism days that I didn’t follow. The character would be really goofy in any context, but it was extra inspired to hire Jeff Bridges’ dad to play a guy the Jeff Bridges character is friends with but not related to. Another one of those choices that’s funny because they hired someone specifically because they were a big star for a role that would only not be distracting for viewers who never saw or heard of them before.
To the movie’s credit it gets more fun in the last act because it abandons the earlier pretense of procedural realism and starts seeming more like some feverish RICOCHET shit worthy of the director of PREDATOR 2’s time. Dove improbably finds a Riddler-esque clue leading him to Gaerity’s hideout on a dilapidated derelict casino boat. Gaerity fakes being caught unprepared (listening to U2, of course) just so Dove can get his hands on a decoy trigger and not the real one setting off a bomb at the Boston Pops 4th of July concert where Kate is playing violin on the War of 1812 Overture. Luckily it’s broadcasting on A&E, so Gaerity is able to gesture to a live shot of her on his little TV while revealing his master plan. More importantly the boat is loaded with a preposterous Rube Goldberg contraption that sets off when he pours mercury down a sink, through a pipe, onto a roulette wheel, which spins and triggers a lever that knocks a marble into a slide that bumps a metal ball through a tube that knocks over a bucket of more mercury, etc. etc.
Our variously accented Irish combatants fight and plummet through the crumbling ship, and Dove tries to sacrifice himself by handcuffing them both inside to die. That’s when Franklin shows up to rescue him, and they escape as the boat explodes in an admittedly very impressive pyrotechnical showcase that press materials claim shattered 8,000 windows. (I hope they apologized to the neighbors.) Interesting tidbit: every time anybody watches that scene on blu-ray or streaming Michael Bay gets an erection, no matter where he is in the world.
To my surprise Gaerity actually is supposed to be blown away in that scene and doesn’t show up miraculously alive (maybe with half his face burned) like usual. But like Jigsaw he’s already put his plan in place, so there’s more.
BLOWN AWAY is really more suspense thriller than action, with your usual sweaty guessing-which-color-of-wire-to-cut set pieces, plus two scenes where Dove suddenly realizes where the bomb must be and then runs through a big crowd trying to yell to a friend or loved one not to turn a key that will set it off. Exciting stuff!
But I think the finale qualifies as action because he drives a stolen police motorcycle next to Kate’s Jeep, yells not to step on the brakes, FAST AND FURIOUSes into the Jeep and crawls down to try to defuse the device under the brake pedal as the car hurtles downhill, barely missing dozens of instant deaths for the whole family. There’s something extra unnerving about seeing him down there with his head facing the direction of potential impact, and if I was more on board with the whole endeavor I might’ve thought it was funny instead of annoying that Gaerity put little toy figurines in the bomb knowing his attention to aesthetics would not be in vain because Dove would definitely find and try to defuse it.
Interestingly the bigger “vehicle that can’t slow down” movie of the year, SPEED, was rushed into production in order to be released before BLOWN AWAY, and though they’re not very similar that movie’s just so much more fun that I’m sure it kind of took the shine off this one. Although BLOWN AWAY was MGM’s biggest opening weekend ever, it opened at #4 below SPEED in its fourth week. (#1 was THE LION KING week 3 and #2 was newcomer THE SHADOW). It did at least open bigger than fellow new releases I LOVE TROUBLE, BABY’S DAY OUT and LITTLE BIG LEAGUE.
The screenplay is credited to Joe Batteer & John Rice (CHASERS, WINDTALKERS), story by those two plus one “M. Jay Roach,” which is indeed the Jay Roach who would soon direct the AUSTIN POWERS movies. Actually Jones’ performance would’ve been perfect in one of those.
Four years later Hopkins had a shot at a big summer event movie, but it was LOST IN SPACE, so now he mostly does TV.
P.S. As advertised on the end credits, there was a tie-in CD-ROM game from the creator of the Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Make My Video game.