Broken Arrow (1996)

John Woo directs John Travolta, Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis in this action blockbuster where a stealth jet pilot goes rogue and crashes his plane into the desert to steal its nuclear arsenal.

“Yeah. Ain’t it cool?”

Everybody dies, Kelly. I’m as good a reason as any.

“Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?”

Ah… Broken Arrow came out in a bubble. A bubble where John Travolta had gone from slumming it in talking baby movies to (thanks to Pulp Fiction) becoming the highest paid star of the 90s. He’d gone from a has-been to the coolest star in cinema. Every utterance from his mouth was going to be the most quotable sentence ever. A bubble where we kinda had already figured out Christian Slater wasn’t going to be the next Jack Nicholson, as promised by all those magazine articles, but yet was still leading man material. Where Samantha Mathis was one of the sexiest stars in this particular young lad’s eyes. Where John Woo’s Hong Kong action stylings were the most brain-frazzling visuals ever committed to celluloid. Where Ry Cooder’s twangy guitar score was about to musically define hangdog masculinity heroics right up to the Y2K. I went to the cinema with my Dad to see it. Bought the video. Wore that video out.

The reality is all these elements have dated Broken Arrow horrendously – Travolta threw his comeback away on bland overpaid rubbish, Slater rewired his career and became a character actor, Mathis probably only now means something to particular middle aged men, John Woo’s use of slow mo, birds, close-up or symbolic exchanges now seems cliched old hat and the kids don’t know what Ry Cooder’s twangy guitar is anymore. Apart from lashings of high octane action, the secret strength of Broken Arrow is Graham Yost’s screenplay. The guy who wrote Speed sure knows how to craft a race against the clock, three act, big budget chase. Heroes who throw themselves into danger, improvise MacGuyver style solutions and get the girl. Crew cut, boy scout, vehicular carnage heroics. With a satisfying side of chaste romance. And a pudding of psychotic but chatty villainy.

Broken Arrow is still an atomic rush. Give it another 10 years and that embedded 1995 staleness will suddenly become its charm again. A priceless relic, a time capsule of physical adventure. The 1990s genie in a bottle. Movies don’t have these stunts any more, these Mano-y-Mano scraps to the death. You’ll wanna see Slater leaping from exploding train carriages. Marvel at Mathis scrambling out of the way of a wayward helicopter rota. Guffaw at Travolta talking sass to his old partner, henchmen, financier and the White House boardroom. Holding the fucking world to ransom and cracking wise. I don’t know how you want to spend your Friday nights but it is this or a “live action” remake of The Fox & The Hound. You live in your reality, I’m bunging a flare and a petrol canister at fat Danny Zuko’s humvee!


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