Terminal Velocity (1994)
Terminal Velocity (1994)

Genre: Action and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Deran Sarafian Actors: Charlie Sheen, Nastassja Kinski, James Gandolfini, Christopher McDonald, Gary Bullock, Melvin Van Peebles, Cathryn De Prume




n the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, a panicked woman driving in a car is frightened by a highjacked 747 illegally landing in the middle of nowhere. Later, when she arrives back at her apartment, she’s murdered by two thugs anxious to get rid of the witness. The following morning, at the Desert City Paracenter, nervous, quirky young blonde Chris Morrow (Nastassja Kinski) insists on an immediate skydiving lesson. Her instructor is Richard “Ditch” Brodie (Charlie Sheen), a daredevil parachuter with a reputation for pulling off controversial stunts, especially when newsworthy, crowd-gathering events are taking place. Despite a recent FAA inspection reporting 12 safety violations, Ditch takes her up in the air, where she dives out of the plane when he’s not looking. Sure enough, Chris’ parachute fails to open and she collides with the ground like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

Brodie is now nearly suicidal, but also certain that he tethered Chris properly to the plane. After going through her stuff, he locates her apartment and begins to investigate the mysterious woman. Stepping foot on her property gets him ambushed by the same gangster that attacked the previous witness. After a narrow escape, he continues to pursue clues about Morrow’s background, while dodging the Deputy District Attorney of Tucson, Ben Pinkwater (James Gandolfini), who is deciding whether or not to press criminal charges. Ditch first discovers that Chris was, in fact, an excellent skydiver – and next he finds out that she’s still alive, working as a special KGB agent tasked with thwarting a plot by the Russian mafia to smuggle stolen gold from the Moscow reserve. And he’s been handpicked by the courageous female soldier to assist with the volatile mission – more as a lackey than a partner.

Brodie exhibits some impossible durability, especially during his first encounter with a towering thug (Christopher McDonald); he survives a blitz attack smash to the back of the skull, some punches, and a crash through a glass coffee table. Despite all of this physical abuse, he not only knocks his assailant into a fish tank, but also flees from the altitudinous building without so much as a limp. And, minutes later, he’s bombarded by another aggressor. Although he’s frequently in over his head and prone to making bad judgments, he’s quick on his feet when in deadly scenarios – such as being chased by a knife-wielding maniac or engaging in machinegun shootouts. All that skydiving must have somehow prepared him for military combat.

Although the realism is at a staggering low, the screenplay (written by David Twohy, who also penned “The Fugitive”) is surprisingly clever, using quite a few jokes and suspenseful situations for impressive comedic effect; unexpected things happen with hilarious consequences. This is in addition to some exciting action sequences, which admirably refuse to let up after they start. The final stunt (involving a car falling out of an airplane, with Kinski in the trunk) is fairly spectacular, even if it’s only half real and half greenscreen. This is all part of the appropriately swift pacing, which works well for the adventure, especially since the story is dependent on keeping Brodie (and the audience) in the dark. In dated ’90s style (even at the time), the opening title sequence foreshadows the film’s overall goofiness (presided over by rapidly-picked electric guitar notes), with its speedily flashing block letters clumsily assaulting the screen. Thankfully, “Terminal Velocity” doesn’t try to hide its cheesiness, instead embracing it (or uncomfortably acknowledging it) at every turn.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10