Welcome to this latest installment of VSAH, folks! Definitely check out this month’s other reviews from Todd at Cinema Monolith, Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, and Sir Wolf (you’ve been knighted, pal) over at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club.
Ambition can be a weird and wild thing at times, particularly when it comes to film production whether it be a big deal studio film or tiny independent flick. Taking a pack of awesome ideas and turning them into reality (well, of the cinematic kind) while keeping an audience hooked into the world you’ve created it a risky business, specifically when it comes to fantasy and science fiction.
Granted, the actual “science” in most sci-fi is at best, suspect and at worst, more than enough to yank a viewer clean out of the experience and leave them scratching their heads raw (ow!) while they try and figure out what the hell is going on in some scenes as they miss an important plot point or three in the process. On the other hand, a film like Steven Lisberger’s (TRON) absolutely ambitious 1989 film Slipstream isn’t going to be one where you question the science all that much (if at all) because you’ll likely be questioning a few other more important things from parts of its plot to some offbeat cameos that may add to the star power, but come off a bit too much like stunt casting or a few folks popping in for a fast paycheck.
The film certainly kicks off ambitiously enough with a properly bombastic Elmer Bernstein main theme and a wonderfully shot flying sequence using one of a few of the custom made aircraft created specifically for the production. That plane is carrying the somewhat cantankerous “peacekeeper” Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his able-bodied assistant Belitski (Kitty Aldridge) and said plane is chasing a man in a nice suit (Bob Peck) running away from them to no avail. He’s caught up with and captured by the pair who plan to take him to some faraway location to be tried and executed for the murder he’s committed. Unfortunately for them, their nattily dressed prisoner is swiped by Matt Owens (Bill Paxton), a genial illegal arms dealer looking to make a big score when he discovers how valuable that prisoner is before he decides to try his hand at kidnapping.
In the scuffle that follows, Belitski shoots Owens with a poison dart, as Tasker allows Owens to scoot off with his stolen prize and do the heavy lifting work for Tasker insofar as getting that prisoner transported until the slow acting poison kicks in and kills him. All Tasker and Belitski need to do after that occurs is follow his plane, show up to reclaim their still handcuffed bounty, collect their reward and live happily ever after, THE END. Review’s over, monkey’s dead. Thanks for reading this installment of VSAH! See you next month now, cheers! 😀
First, we end up back at Owens’ home base, a lively but run-down village called Hell’s Kitchen, where we get the first oddball cameo from Robbie Coltrane as Montclaire, the jolly village chief of sorts. He’s in a communal bathtub (thankfully, with some clothing on) and wait, is he holding a plate with what looks like a giant fake lobster on it at some point? Oh, dear. Well, he’s only in the film for a few minutes until Owens and his prize (now named Byron because I think he quotes a Byron verse and Owens mistakes it as his name) head out for their next stop. You also get Hamill delivering a great line at one point as he and Belitski depart a certain scene in their cool-looking plane as they get back to pursuing Owens.
Owens and Byron end up in a new location where a tribe of cave dwelling types are under siege by unseen gun-toting bandits and it’s here they meet Ariel (Eleanor David), who seems to have an almost immediate attraction to Byron. That attraction isn’t at all shared by the Avatar (Ben Kingsley, wait, Sir Ben Kingsley?), who, after being rescued by Byron, calls him some sort of existential threat and right before he drops dead (oops) decides to have the villagers detain Owens and tie Byron to a rather large kite of sorts so he can be “judged” by the Slipstream. Wait, what? Oh, I forgot to mention that this is a post-apocalyptic earth-set flick where wild winds sweep the planet and it seems only the best pilots can survive navigating that Slipstream. In a way, it’s kind of like a windswept, lower budgeted (but still ambitious) Waterworld before that film existed, I guess.
Tasker and Belitski show up mad(der), Byron’s big secret is revealed (although you can kind of figure it out from all the poetry and other literary quotes he blurts out along with his penchant for being super helpful to anyone he can), there’s a big, silly (and kind of hard to decipher) escape scene and with aid from Ariel, we now end up in a new location. Cue F. Murray Abraham in a longer but still cameo-sized cameo as pat of a group of elites inhabiting a museum or library of sorts. They’re all wary of both Owens and Byron, but both dudes get their assorted thangs on with different ladies, so it’s not all bad a temporary stop. Oh, yeah: there’s actually a song and dance sequence at some point during this part of the film that’s *more* than a little mind-boggling, but roll with it and laugh because it kind of fits the flow of things in its own strange manner.
Cue Tasker and Belitski popping in one last time but with different agendas, a pretty (and accidentally) hilarious flight/fight sequence (that ends almost like a Warner Bros. cartoon if you think about it), an all-new teaming up and, huh? Funky-looking actual hot air balloons as part of the end credits where you’ll probably be sitting in front of your TV with popcorn spilling from your jaw, which will have fallen to the floor at some point during the final few minutes. The first time I saw this film, I actually mistook the late Bob Peck for Bryan Brown because I zipped away to get a beverage and didn’t see all the main credits (oops). it took me until seeing this after quite a while to realize my mistake, which made for a few chuckles at my expense when I watched this with a few friends who pointed out the error.
As with any action-oriented flick, there are some eyebrow-raising moments where one’s suspension of belief is tasked, but most of those revolve around Byron’s seemingly indestructible nature. Still, that poison working through Owens’ system seems to not be all that powerful until it becomes more of a plot device that causes a certain outcome you may or may not see coming a mile away. As to those cameos, well,… I guess if you’ve ever gotten Sir Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham confused, you’ll be more than pleased to see them in a film together… until you realize that they never appear in the same scenes.
Hmmmm…. the mystery continues, I guess.
All joking aside (temporarily), there’s a certain polish to some aspects of this Gary Kurtz (Star Wars) produced film that lend appeal. The use of interesting location shots for those real planes to zip around in (save for a few obvious mattes) plus the general quality of the model work are great. Hamill, Peck, Paxton, and Aldridge do okay with their lines and yes, the film does pop in a few messages about hope and other good stuff. Still, one can’t help but wonder what could have been with certain scenes re-shot or expanded to help out the plot when it falters. The film never got a US theatrical release, but was a video store staple I recall seeing on shelves in some rental shops with larger than usual inventories. I do recall renting this, Moontrap and Moon 44 on one particularly dreary weekend and of the three, finding this one the most palatable, warts and all.
If you’re interested in checking this out on disc, you can either buy it cheap on ebay or Amazon as a separate film or in one of a few multi-film or multi-disc collections. Either way, it won’t cost more than ten bucks if you shop smart. Image quality isn’t quite stellar on those DVD’s, but until we get a full-on Blu-ray remaster, it’s your best bet. The big Q here is “Is it worth it?” Well, you’ll be your own Video Store Action Hero if you decide to take one for the team and find out, friends. Er, just don’t try and pop into out little cult, now. We’re kind of full up for the moment, but you can all have an honorary membership at no cost because we’re good like that.