Film Review: Bird on a Wire (1990)

in #aaalast year


Flawed premise in the script can wreck even films that could otherwise expect success on the basis of great talents behind and in front of camera. That, to a certain degree, happened with Bird on a Wire, 1990 action comedy directed by John Badham.

Protagonist of the film is Marianne “Muffy” Graves (played by Goldie Hawn), former hippie who, like so many members of her generations, discarded former ideals and embraced materialistic ethos of 1980s as corporate lawyer. During business trip in Detroit he gets to gas station where she notices man (played by Mel Gibson) who happens to be spitting image of Rick Jarmin, her old boyfriend who allegedly died in plane crash fifteen years ago. He, rather unconvicingly, denies that he is Rick, but soon it is revealed that he is indeed Rick and that he had good reasons to stay out of limelight. A decade and half ago he was involved in drug deal, got arrested and later testified against two corrupt DEA agents – Eugene Sorenson (played by David Carradine) and Albert “Diggs” Diggins (played by Bill Duke). Sorenson ended in jail, while Diggs remained free, forcing Rick to join witness protection program and constantly changed identity. Chance encounter with Marianne inadvertently allowed corrupt FBI agent Joe Weyburn (played by Stephen Tobolowsky) to learn about Rick’s whereabouts and point them to Diggs and Sorenson, who had just been paroled from federal prison. They attack Rick just as Marianne is to confront him and two of them are forced to run for their lives. Despite constant danger, they soon rediscover feelings they had for each other.

John Badham enjoys reputation as one of the most successful directors in 1980s Hollywood, with action genre being his forte. Script by Louis Venosta and David Seltzer seemed like another nice opportunity for Badham to show his skills, despite action being mixed with screwball comedy, some romance and homage to Hitchcock. Badham indeed directs film very well, especially in scenes that feature chases; they are also versatile, because they feature various modes of transportation, like motorcycles, cars and planes. He also has good cast at his hands. Mel Gibson, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, obviously enjoyed playing romantic lead with light comical touches, even in scenes which in various ways challenged his character’s manhood in sometimes funny ways. Goldie Hawn, one of best Hollywood comediennes of late 20th Century, has sufficient chemistry with Gibson to make the film work, although some of their love scenes are predictable (including those that feature body doubles).

However, all their charm and talent can’t help with some serious problems with the script. One of main ingredients of Hitchockian formula is the strong and memorable villain. In this case, they are played by veteran actors like David Carradine, Bill Duke and Stephen Tobolowsky but none of them is well-written or particularly memorable. Furthermore, idea that disgraced federal agent who was incarcerated for decade and half would magically turn into master criminal able to chase down people half across the country could have been elaborated better in order to be plausible. Villains’ quest for protagonists is also in many ways helped by protagonists’ inability to realise that criminals have informers within law enforcement so well-placed that they can discover their locations based on credit cards or phone calls. In the end, inspiration fails even Badham who stages final showdown in the zoo; scene, which was shot in the massive Vancouver set, tries to bring too much spectacle with fake jungle, rivers, lakes and plenty of dangerous animalsthat somehow roam free. Even less perceptive viewers will realise that someone is going to end up as animals’ lunch and it isn’t likely that it would be protagonists, so much of the suspense is gone. The result is chaotic, implausible and mostly disappointing finale. Despite mediocre reviews, film had good box office results, that could be best explained with Gibson’s presence. Gibson and Hawn indeed make this watchable enough to be recommended even to those who aren’t their greatest fans, but those who want high quality combination of action, comedy and romance should look elsewhere.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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