A rogue bomber pilot steals two nukes.
Directed by John Woo
Starring John Travolta, Christian Slater, and Samantha Mathis
Review by Jon Kissel
At the same time Woo is trying something different, so is antagonist John Travolta as Vic Deakins. Coming off Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty, Travolta had never been in a straight action flick before, nor had he been a villain. Kudos to him for using all of his cred to try something new, though he’s better at one of these skills than the other. Unlike fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise, Travolta isn’t manifesting an onscreen death wish with impossible stunts and you-are-there danger. On the other hand, he’s loving being a bad guy. There’s a feyness and a theatricality to his performance that makes him easy to buy as a psychopath obsessed with dominating every interaction. Anyone who lights a cigarette with a full-finger flourish, even when there’s no one around, wants people to notice him. Woo helps Travolta out with not one, but two slow-motion entrances, and Travolta helps himself out by following up a throat-punch with a pinched read of ‘Hush!,’ though he also directly quotes Pulp Fiction in what I chose to believe is an ill-conceived ad-lib. He’s not doing enough to save the film, but he’s trying stuff compared to the stock performances of Slater and Mathis.
Travolta can’t seriously elevate Broken Arrow because it wastes a lot of time in unnecessary places. The analyst sent from Washington, played by Frank Whaley, is so insignificant that he doesn’t come up in the nine-paragraph Wikipedia summary. The most senior on-the-ground military official, played by Delroy Lindo, is thought of so minimally by the film that he dies off-camera from pilot error, and he’s not even the one doing the flying. Howie Long doesn’t fit into this problem specifically, as he’s always with Deakins, but he bears mention based on the sweet deal he clearly negotiated for himself. Of all the people in the film, Long’s henchman is the only one praised for his acting skills. That could not have been a coincidence.
With only vague memories of seeing Broken Arrow half of my lifetime ago and a general side-eyed appreciation of the time period, I wasn’t expecting this film to be so ordinary. Its greatest sin is how rote so much of it is, essentially Die Hard in a desert. Travolta in his middle-aged prime isn’t enough. C