Blown Away

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.

I kind of like these half-assed photocopy movie posters now.

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.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 2nd, 2023 at 12:21 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action, Thriller. 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.

26 Responses to “Blown Away”

  1. I haven’t seen this since the 90s but I don’t remember it being that laughable, though even then the accents were pretty hinky. Jeff Bridges gets the Kevin Costner Award for doing the absolute bare minimum, but Tommy Lee went all out and paid the price for it. He can at least console himself knowing that Irish is one of those accents that defeats EVERYONE. Shit, Irish people can barely pull it off. I don’t think there’s ever been a successful impersonation of an Irish accent committed to film. Think of the top-ten worst accents you’ve ever heard and there’s a good chance at least five of them are Irish. And the other five are Kenneth Branaugh. (Honorable mention for Mario Van Peebles in JAWS: THE REVENGE, since bad Jamaican accents have the tendency to slip into bad Irish when you’re not looking.) The absolute worst, of course, being whatever the fuck David Boreanez thought he was doing in the flashbacks on ANGEL. I honestly can’t believe they didn’t do one take and then say, “Okay, maybe he’s not Irish…” At this point, we as a society really ought to have learned that you either hire an Irishman to play an Irishman or you rewrite the goddamn script. There is no Option C. It simply can’t be done.

  2. Things explode great.

  3. In Irish film circles, we do actually have a small list of impressive Irish accents pulled off by non-Irish actors. Off the top of my head, it includes Cosmo Jarvis (CALM WITH HORSES), James McAvoy (INSIDE I’M DANCING), Cate Blanchett (VERONICA GUERIN) and Alan Rickman (MICHAEL COLLINS). There are others, but I can’t think of them right now.

  4. Actually, Jon Voight’s accent in John Boorman’s THE GENERAL is pretty good too. Then you got your Meryl Streep and Judi Dench and Julie Walters, but you’d expect them to ace it, right? Oh, Kate Hudson does good work in ABOUT ADAM too, and you might be surprised to know that Mel Gibson’s best Irish bud in BRAVEHEART (David O’Hara) is actually a Scottish actor. And if you think those two accents are pretty interchangeable, I invite you to bear witness to whatever the fuck Gerard Butler was doing in that Hilary Swank movie I can’t remember the title of.

  5. This opened my first night working at a movie theatre and Speed was already trouncing it. Still I’ll always have a soft spot, but more so for the Shadow and the Jim Steinman song I got to hear every two hours when I cleaned the theaters!

  6. For a moment there at the start of this review I had thought “Oh no, he’s going to like it!”, which would’ve required me to do some serious re-evaluation of my life choices. But no, thankfully, this review captures so much of what makes BLOWN AWAY awful. I don’t think it lays quite enough blame at the feet of Jeff Bridges, who really seemed set on hitting a career low, while at least Tommy Lee just pushed the mega beyond the bounds of human comprehension. But as you say, maybe both of them had read the script and those were their responses.

    See, the bomb disposal movie is probably one of my absolute favourite sub-genres. THE SMALL BACK ROOM is an all timer, and if JUGGERNAUT gets a showing I’ll be there. There is just something gloriously thrilling about men with clamps, a pen torch in one hand and wire cutters in the other, peering into a darkened drum, and muttering some variation on “You’re so sly, but so am I”. And BLOWN AWAY just blows it all; sure there’s a great explosion, but at that point who cares? Frankly, I’d rather watch the other other bomb disposal movie of 1994, BOMB DISPOSAL OFFICER: BABY BOMB, which if it were not so clearly a Hong Kong handover anxiety movie, could be Kevin & Perry Go Bomb Disposal – a mashup of Hong Kong sex comedy and bomb disposal. Is it the red wire or the blue wire? The clock is ticking! And yes, there is a bomb on the bus.

  7. I recall watching this a few weeks after SPEED, and buzzing off that adrenaline high and going into BLOWN AWAY was always going to be a 100% guarantee for an underwhelming experience. Can’t remember large chunks of this, but my memory of it is that The Dude was doing his best with a severely undercooked script as was Mrs. Jim Cameron. Jones was of course left to do the scenery chewing and I knew right off the bat, the way I knew even before seeing a single frame of ROBIN HOOD PRINCE OF THIEVES, that I was in for a quintessentially American Actor who’d valiantly wrestle with a non-American Accent and fail spectacularly. Just like you know Benedict Cumberbatch and Gerard Butler are going to bollocks up an American Accent. I think Ozzie Actors navigate this far better. Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Margot Robbie….

    On that note…I’d say the Australian Accent gives the Irish one a run for the money in the category of MOST DIFFICULT TO MASTER AND PULL OF CONVINCINGLY. EVERY non-Oz actor attempting it comes off like a Crocodile Dundee parody. Barring of course La Streep who is an absolute demon at these sorts of things.

  8. And while it makes sense for someone to push a Joshua Tree album into Gaerity’s hands, not having him listen to BULLET THE BLUE SKY while he works is a missed opportunity.

    In the howling wind comes a stinging rain
    See it driving nails
    Into the souls on the tree of pain
    From the firefly, a red orange glow
    See the face of fear
    Running scared in the valley below

    Now…THAT’s lyrics to build a bomb too.

  9. My favourite bomb diffusion scene was in an episode of NCIS, in which Gibbs just yanked all the wires out and it worked. That was a joke that I wanted to see since my teenage years and it took them only until the (if I remember right) 2010s to do it.

  10. Random thing about accents: It’s a bit controversial, but I love that they usually don’t give a shit about them in German dubbings. Germany does have its fair share of local accents and dialects, but when dubbing a foreign movie, everybody speaks “Hochdeutsch”, unless it’s usually for comic effect. (Apparently Bavarian and Saxon accents are damn hilarious.) Yes, sometimes it causes confusion or even plotholes (Like when one character instantly identifies another one as “from the south” or whatever after he heard him saying one sentence), but most of the time it doesn’t matter. I guess one reason why they do this, is that English/American accents sound…weird when people have them in German.

    My favourite “creative” use of an American accent was btw in an episode of NEWS RADIO, where Maura Tierney’s character revealed that she has a Boston Accent that she successfuly supresses, but now that everybody knows about it, it came out again and in the German dub she speaks with a Northern German sailor dialect, yet everybody keeps referring to it as “Boston Accent”.

  11. I love it when you hear an actor doing a great accent, and then finding out that he/she actually is from that couintry. Like hearing Anthony LaPaglia speaking Australian after seeing him in a dozen American movies. Or Idris Elba being Luther after Stringer. Or David Harewood going from FBI agent to British Secret Service. It also works with completely different languages. Kristin Scott Thomas does a lot of work in France, and Lex Barker did some westerns in Germany. Scottish actors on the other hand can only do Scottish accents. Sean and Ewan, I’m looking at you.

  12. Funny how 1994 was the year of action movies with explosive bad guys! In addition to SPEED and BLOWN AWAY, this was also the year of THE SPECIALIST… I would love to see a movie bringing together Dennis Hopper, Tommy Lee Jones and James Woods (all in OVERACTING mode) to join forces and explode the entire world. There would be a lot of yelling and over the top acting…

  13. I always mix this movie up with the other “Jeff Bridges vs a bomber” movie, Arlington Road

  14. It would’ve been funny if a twist had been Tommy Lee’s character hadn’t REALLY been Irish, revealed by thinking that Irish people listen to U2 only.

  15. @Jam on the Cosmo Jarvis front – I really believe he’s one more showy supporting role in a prestige picture away from being the next Bond. Have thought that since Lady Macbeth.

    Reckon the usual list of candidates is badly out of date now – irrelevant to this thread but I think the auditionees will be Cosmo, Johnny Flynn, Callum Turner (also have a hunch about josh o’connor which’ll probably get me funny looks).

    Not seen this but Vern’s U2 note is very funny. IRA not the biggest fans on the whole!

  16. @steven e
    Yep, he’s very good, had him tapped as a Bond contender too. Buddy of mine wrote CALM WITH HORSES and told me most of the crew didn’t know Cosmo wasn’t Irish until the last week when he finally started talking in his regular English accent. I think having a singing background helps.

  17. One last one (and I’ll try not to be biased), but Tom Holland did a very good Irish accent AND spoke Gaelic for half of it, despite only flying in and prepping a fortnight before shooting started for PILGRIMAGE.

  18. Sorry, thumb slipped.

  19. My favorite bad Irish accent and course correction was on the series Burn Notice, where Gabrielle Anwar spoke with a pretty bad (to my ears) Irish accent in the first episode, and then it was gone in the second episode with the explanation that her character Fiona was trying to assimilate into Miami better by talking with an American accent.

  20. There’s also the interesting inverse of Irish actors who mostly play non-Irish, and when they play to their roots, it’s surprising. Like Richard Harris, probably best known for playing an English Wizard, a Roman Emperor (with an English accent), and a cowboy called English Bob. Also watched THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY for the first time recently and there’s a young Pierce Brosnan in it as an IRA guy, though I don’t think he has any lines with an Irish accent so his casting seems a little redundant on that regard.

  21. I always get this movie mixed up with ARLINGTON ROAD, which Jeff Bridges starred in 5 years later opposite Tim Robbins. It’s weirdly similar except that in that one (SPOILER ALERT) BRIDGES plays the terrorist bomber, and Robbins plays the protagonist adversary (kind of like the Bridges Role in Blown Away).

    They were both pretty forgettable.

    Funny timing on this one because I was stuck in a hotel room this weekend during some bad weather and with relatively few options watched SPACE COWBOYS on cable (starring Clint, Tommy Lee Jones and others) and it got me wondering: has Tommy Lee Jones retired? I feel like I haven’t seen home since LINCOLN. Did he sneak off and pulll a Gene-Hackman-like quiet retirement?

  22. @Stu That was pretty early in his career, to be fair. He could well have had line that were trimmed in the editing process.

  23. Hermano – am I wrong or are you mixed up as to the plot of ARLINGTON ROAD?

  24. Good question, Hermano. The last thing I remembered seeing him in was THE MECHANIC: RESURRECTION (2016), but I forgot he was also in AD ASTRA (2019). He has not had a movie since 2020, but IMDb lists two things in post-production. (One of them is a Brian Helgeland crime movie starring Jenna Ortega.) So maybe he just took a pandemic break.

  25. S, you are correct that Hermano has slightly gotten the plot of Arlington Road wrong.

    Further Arlington Road spoilers…

    Robbins is a bomber. Bridges is the guy trying to stop him, but nobody believes him and at the end Bridges is framed as a suicide bomber that blows up FBI headquarters while Robbins lives on to move to another city to find another patsy to frame as a bomber.

    One of the streaming services is turning it into a series ala Fatal Attraction and Dead Ringers both premiering next month.

  26. I saw Jones in his last credited movie, THE COMEBACK TRAIL which felt a bit low rent, goofy and beneath him and De Niro, though it had a decent premise I suppose and maybe they just fancied being in something not too heavy and fun.

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