Broken Arrow (1996)
Broken Arrow (1996)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: February 9th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Woo Actors: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Bob Gunton, Frank Whaley, Howie Long, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jack Thompson, Kurtwood Smith




he opening title sequence tries to be stylish and hip, but the designers clearly didn’t possess the graphics or the sensibility to succeed. Instead, it’s entirely indicative of the style-over-substance and general overdramatic methodologies that dominate director John Woo’s American pictures. This is just part of the unfortunate nature of a famed foreign filmmaker conforming to Hollywood standards and expectations.

Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta) and Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater), two experienced U.S. Air Force fighter jet pilots, are assigned a test mission to fly a B-3 with live nukes in stealth mode over Utah. During the flight, Deakins attempts to kill his partner to steal the missiles, but they both end up ejecting from the craft before it crashes into the hills. When search and rescue teams locate the exploded plane, they discover that the nuclear weapons have been removed.

At the Pentagon, it’s revealed that the Class Four strategic theater scenario known as a “broken arrow” is now in play, forcing the military to scramble numerous squadrons to retrieve the missing nukes. As the Air Force attempts to track the hardware, a group of rogue soldiers and inside men – working for out-of-his-element terrorist/moneyman Mr. Pritchett (Bob Gunton) – guns down the investigators. But setting up a governmental ransom plot (for $250 million) proves to be trickier than Deakins thought when Hale reappears, aided by Park Ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis), intent on foiling the madman’s gambit.

Intense stares, slow motion, quick zooms, and operatic music are so overdone that even the first time they’re used they’ve already lost their effectiveness. Additionally paired with generic action movie dialogue and continual overacting, the visual gimmicks increasingly hurt the sincerity of the adventure. This is really a shame, considering the amusement of careening helicopters, a Hummer chase sequence, machinegun shootouts, a finale aboard a train, and all sorts of inexplicably detonating vehicles. It isn’t a case of poor execution as much as just bad embellishments. Fun ideas can’t be saved from all the overdoses of unnecessary styling.

Meanwhile, conventional supporting roles further slow down the pace, such as a sarcastic Secretary of Defense (Kurtwood Smith), a permanently jittery analyst (Frank Whaley), and a stern commanding officer (Delroy Lindo). Strangely, none of these character-actor roles have any impact on the story, as if they were included only because the writer (Graham Yost) felt they had to be. Staying true to Woo’s trademark imagery, “Broken Arrow” also obligatorily contains recognizable, balletic gun battles full of flamboyant lunges and rolls, all while discharging unlimited amounts of ammo. But despite a lot of mayhem taking place on screen, the only memorable component of this ramshackle actioner is Hans Zimmer’s score, which sounds quite similar to his work on “The Rock” from the same year.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10