Monday, September 28, 2015

Film Review: DROP ZONE (1994, John Badham)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Tag-line: "Something dangerous is in the air."
Notable Cast or Crew: Wesley Snipes (DEMOLITION MAN, BLADE), Gary Busey (SURVIVING THE GAME, LETHAL WEAPON), Yancy Butler (HARD TARGET, THE EX), Michael Jeter (THE FISHER KING, JURASSIC PARK III), Malcolm-Jamal Warner (THE COSBY SHOW, SONS OF ANARCHY), Grace Zabriskie (TWIN PEAKS, WILD AT HEART), Corin Nemec (TV's THE STAND, PARKER LEWIS CAN'T LOSE), Mickey Jones (TOTAL RECALL, EXTREME PREJUDICE), Kimberly Scott (THE ABYSS, BATMAN & ROBIN).  Music by Hans Zimmer (THE ROCK, BROKEN ARROW).  Directed by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, WARGAMES, THE HARD WAY, SHORT CIRCUIT, BLUE THUNDER).
Best One-liner:  "God bless America!" [said by a lunatic Gary Busey––it's all in the enunciation]

DROP ZONE tells the tale of a risk-taking lawman who infiltrates a gang of sky-diving adrenaline junkies and thieves in order to bring them to justice.  You may recognize this as the plot of 1991's POINT BREAK, also co-starring Gary Busey.  Don't hold that against it.  DROP ZONE is simply a mediocre 90s action movie trying to make it's way in the world, but like so many of its misfit and forgotten brethren, when it hits its stride, it really hits its stride.  Here are a dozen of DROP ZONE's such "stride-hitting" moments.

 #1.  Gary Busey as a Poindexter.

He's the head of a corrupt ex-DEA sky-diving ring who robs government buildings, hijacks planes, and the like.  For this particular criminal maneuvering, he has adopted the costume and persona of a "Poindexter"-style nerd (with undertones of Buddy Holly!), who even draws attention to himself, pre-hijack, by explaining to the flight attendants how he's afraid of flying.  Nicely done, Mr. Busey.

#2.  This particular measure of Busey-related violence leads to the death of Wesley Snipes' in-movie brother, Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

He's around for about five minutes, and has "dead man walking" written all over him; he might as well be the cop who's got two days till retirement.  His death is spectacular––it involves Busey blasting open the side of an airplane, whereupon the air pressure sucks Malcolm-Jamal to the precipice, and despite Wesley Snipes' best efforts to melodramatically cling to his hand, he is sucked into the void while Wesley shouts "NOOOOOOOOO!"  Then the film, having threatened to turn into PASSENGER 57, returns to Earth and...

 #3. Let's talk about Wesley Snipes as "Nessip."  The quest for Malcolm-Jamal-related vengeance leads Mr. Snipes to infiltrate the sky-diving circuit so he can personally hunt down Gary Busey.

Because his role is more of the straight man, square-jawed hero, this leads to an uncharacteristically understated performance.  Don't expect DEMOLITION MAN or NEW JACK CITY levels of flamboyance here––you can tell he's a little frustrated with his role.  Perhaps because of this, the character is named "Nessip," which is an anagram of "Snipes."  Did Wesley request this personally?  Did having his own scrambled name in the mix somehow placate his ego?

#4.  Gary Busey Teeth Domination.  The aforementioned hijacking took place so that Busey could kidnap a hacker (played by talented character actor Michael Jeter) held in federal custody.  To assert dominance, Busey bites off his finger with his ginormous teeth, an event which leads to the following, brilliant exchange:

#5.  Poor man's Linda Hamilton.  You may recognize Yancy Butler and her intense eyebrows from JCVD's HARD TARGET.
Here, she plays Snipes' sidekick, a daredevil with a heart of gold.  She skydives and looks sad a lot.

#6. Hey, look, it's Mickey Jones!  Real-life best friend of Michael Ironside, former drummer for Bob Dylan, and go-to "hick" supporting player,
Mickey Jones plays a member of (fellow Texan) Busey's gang, which only seems natural.

#7.  A rockin' Hans Zimmer soundtrack.  This is from the era when he really went "full-guitar" and accompanied his pounding action with mournful, Ry Cooder-style riffs.  See also: BROKEN ARROW.

#8.  Grace Zabriskie as a two-fisted, Floridian flygirl and parachute jockey.
When you're watching her here, the idea that she is also "Sarah Palmer" from TWIN PEAKS is veritably mind-blowing.  I swear, she can pull off anything she sets her mind to––truly, she's one of the greats.  Plus, we finally get to see her with Wesley Snipes as a scene partner.
And this is the second time they've worked together!  See also: THE WATERDANCE (1992).

#9.  Gary Busey parachuting in zebra-print pajama pants.
I feel confident in stating this is worth the price of admission.

#10.  MIAMI VICE.  About halfway through, when I realized it was not going to deviate from its Florida locale, I began to discover that this is really kind of a big-budget MIAMI VICE episode, but with no Crockett, and with Busey perfectly encapsulating a vivid, "criminal of the week" guest star.

That's fine by me.

#11. Gary Busey Teeth Domination, Volume 2.  Busey challenges Yancey Butler to a tooth domination competition.  
He wins, obviously.

#12.  Busey's death––a.k.a. Gary Busey Teeth Domination, Volume 3.  Technically, I wouldn't call this a spoiler, since in every action movie from the 1980s and 1990s in which he played a villain, Busey dies.  Here, Wesley Snipes flings him out of a skyscraper without a parachute, and he goes to meet his maker in typical Busey fashion, teeth bared.


He swan-dives directly into the windshield of a truck being driven by Mickey Jones, and explodes.


In his final moments, he attempted to tooth dominate Death Itself.  Who are we to say that he did not succeed?

––Sean Gill

2 comments:

Mike Bradley said...

Badham pictures always have that likable competency! I'll have to revisit this one now that I can appreciate all the surprising names among names that you pointed out -- what a cast! I also remember that (90's alt-rock favorites) Toad The Wet Sprocket's tune "Fall Down" had a nice montage moment in this one, if I recall correctly!

Sean Gill said...

Mike,

Ha--definitely a likable competency at play. I also saw (but did not review for some reason) Badham's THE HARD WAY (with James Woods and Michael J. Fox) a few months ago, and it's truly a hidden gem of the buddy cop genre. I highly recommend if you haven't seen it already.

And films of the 90s could always make room for a nice Toad the Wet Sprocket montage, this one included!