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Broken Arrow
|     Sanjuro's review    |     Kozo's review    |     availability     |
"Did you just insult 'Battlefield Earth'?"

John Travolta is gleefully mad in Broken Arrow.
Year: 1996
Director: John Woo  
Producer: Terence Chang
Writer: Graham Yost
Cast: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Bob Gunton, Frank Whaley, Howie Long, Vondie Curtis-Hall
The Skinny: By-the-numbers popcorn movie enhanced by the fact that it's HK directing legend John Woo's second American effort. Think of Broken Arrow as the cheesy appetizer to the later Woo smorgasbord known as Face/Off.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

After working with Jean Claude Van Damme on 1993's Hard Target, John Woo (and his stateside career) could only go up from there. In retrospect, Woo's American follow-up Broken Arrow is blatantly derivative of pretty much every Die Hard retread in existence (Speed's Graham Yost wrote the screenplay). Still, while seemingly just a standard mindless action flick, the film contains just enough of those signature John Woo touches to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. But not by much.

In Broken Arrow, Vic Deakins (John Travolta) and Riley Hale (Christian Slater) are two ace stealth bomber pilots on a top-secret training mission. But wouldn't you know it? Ol' Vic turns traitor and tries to kill Hale, steal some warheads, and hold the world hostage for a sizeable ransom (shades of Dr. Evil!). But the plucky Hale survives Vic's homicidal attack, and the two engage in an action-packed chess game in the Utah desert over who will get to the missing bombs first. And while a cute park ranger (Samantha Morton) shows up to help Slater's character, we all know that the underdog Hale will have to go it alone against the megalomaniacal Deakins. After all, this is a John Woo movie.

There are plot holes, leaps in logic, and all sorts of assorted goofs in Broken Arrow, but somehow, I still liked it. Some blatant Woo-isms are present in the film, but for the most part, they're downplayed (Christian Slater does brandish two guns in super slow-mo at one point, but no doves appear). As with many of Woo's films, Broken Arrow is about two men who are, in essence, opposite sides of the same coin. Consequently, the film almost seems like a dress rehearsal for Face/Off. Just take a look at John Travolta's villainous performance in Broken Arrow and compare it to his work in Face/Off. Here, Travolta gleefully sneers his way through the proceedings, but he still hasn't quite put his finger on the villain role just yet, as he would later do as the transformed Castor Troy. Broken Arrow is by no means a great film. It's just a fun (or dumb, depending on your mood) popcorn movie, but in the larger context of John Woo's career, it's an intriguing prelude to his lone Hollywood gem. (Calvin McMillin, 2003)

Alternate Review
by Kozo:

John Woo's second US effort is ostensibly a step up from Hard Target, featuring a massive budget and real stars like John Travolta rather than kick-boxing [bad] actor Jean Claude Van-Damme. Plot: charismatic but kooky stealth bomber pilot Vic Deakins (Travolta) steals two nukes and holds them hostage for a multi-million dollar ransom. However, he never expected his co-pilot, the younger, less charismatic Riley Hale (Christian Slater), to dog him from one end of the film to the other. Lines are crossed, guns brandished, and your usual assortment of John Woo slo-mo is foisted upon the paying audience.

With Woo at the helm, you'd expect some cool blowout action, but the results are sadly so-so. It seems Woo has yet to receive the blessings of studio suits—the action here channels less Woo than Hard Target did. The action is formulaic, unrealistic, and not fitting to Woo's strengths. He functions best when violence is an unfortunate reality and not an act of heroism. America has lobotimized him; instead of resolution-through-action, we get action beats.

Also, the whole bad guy/good guy dichotomy is missing, despite the presence of two big name actors in co-starring roles. The plot here is by-the-numbers; nothing occurs here that's incredibly new or interesting. This is average stuff even by Hollywood's notoriously lenient standards. Quite frankly, Broken Arrow is rather silly.

The acting is hit-or-miss, though having John Travolta around actually helps. As bad guy Deakins, Travolta exudes sly charisma and seems to be in on the film's joke. His foil, Christian Slater, fares less well as Riley Hale; Slater could give Keanu Reeves a run for his money in a "no personality" contest. To top it all off, Woo botches a female character once again. Samantha Mathis plays a kick-butt park ranger, and she's both uninteresting and completely lost. It looks like Maggie Cheung was right in Irma Vep when she said that Woo "isn't interested in directing actresses." My message to John Woo: please make better movies. (Kozo 1996)

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
20th Century Fox
English and French Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
English and Spanish subtitles
Theatrical Trailer
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen