"Flight of the Intruder" takes about an hour to get off the ground, and once it does, is rather exciting. That first hour, though, is a trial.
The film was directed by John Milius ("Red Dawn"), many of whose films have been characterized by their gung-ho exuberance, their determination to go over the top and take the audience with them, flags flying, guns firing.
Milius wears his convictions on his movie sleeves, and the new one is no exception. It could have been made during World War II. It certainly plays that way. The principal characters are Navy men, a squadron leader, a pilot, a bombardier and a flight commander.
Danny Glover plays the flight commander, a character similar to the characters John Wayne played in his World War II movies. He's one of these people who is tough, arrogant and dedicated to the military code. He is a pain, a large one. He is not likely to encourage anyone to join the Navy.
Brad Johnson ("Always") is the pilot, and Willem Dafoe is the bombardier. They meet in Vietnam in 1972, seven years after the war "started." The bombardier has a death wish. He had left a buddy behind on a previous mission and was accused of cowardly behavior.
He had been wrongly accused. The wounded man couldn't move and encouraged the bombardier to move ahead, save himself.
The pilot, meanwhile, is suffering acute frustration. He is tired of bombing targets that mean nothing.
He is tired of fruitless raids in which American men die needless deaths. He wants to bomb Hanoi, where the SAMs are stored. He wants to blow those up, and when he decides to do so, finds a willing ally in the bombardier.
They succeed in their mission, but when they return to the carrier, are advised that they will face a court martial. What happens from there on is both ironic and interesting.
There is a rescue mission. It is very similar to the one that was dramatized in "Bat 21," a film Gene Hackman did in 1988. Danny Glover was in that one, too.
Dafoe makes us believe in his character, his death wish. You don't doubt for a minute that this man is willing to die, if not for his country, then certainly to ease his conscience.
Johnson, looking like a meaner Rock Hudson, assures us that the impression he made in "Always" was an accurate one. We should be seeing much more of him. Glover tries, but his is an impossible role.
"Flight of the Intruder," shot on the islands of Oahu and Kauai in Hawaii, includes some very impressive aerial and ground footage, so if you are fascinated by scenes of planes soaring, peeling and diving, you may even find that first hour of this film tolerable.
"Flight of the Intruder" opens here today.
"Flight of the Intruder"
** A Navy pilot and a bombardier stage an unofficial bombing raid on Hanoi.
CAST: Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Brad Johnson
DIRECTOR: John Milius
RATING: PG-13 (language)
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes