Academy® Award Winning Actors Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) and Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) pair up to deliver one of the most exciting, nonstop action-adventure hits since Top Gun! When an international enemy turns to high-tech weaponry, the U.S. Army enlists the aid of the Apaches America s elite airborne task force specially trained for aerial assault! Cage and Jones star as hot-shot Fire Birds hovering, ping and dodging death on dangerous secret missions inside hostile territory! Audiences will be blown away by this explosive action epic, full of aerial gunfights and thrilling combat acrobatics!
"Gentlemen, does anybody in this room feel as frustrated as I do?"
Sometimes when you're watching a movie you become painfully aware of the fact that what you're seeing is a knockoff of a better, more successful film. Hollywood loves to imitate itself so when 'Jaws' came out we also got 'Tentacles' and 'Alligator.' When 'Star Wars' lit up the box office audiences were hit with movies like 'Flash Gordon' and 'The Ice Pirates.' Then you get a movie like 'Top Gun.' Not only did this movie cement Tom Cruise's superstar status, it also made Navy fighter jets look really, really cool. So naturally a slew of imitators like 'Iron Eagle' were thrown up all over movie screens. But someone clever decided that a good hook would be to switch things up. If jets were all the rage, what about Apache gunship helicopters? Because of this seemingly innocuous spark of inspiration, we now have Nicolas Cage as a hotshot helicopter pilot taking on Central American drug lords in 'Fire Birds.'
After President George H.W. Bush recommitted the United States' to President Reagan's recommitment to Nixon's war on drugs, our military is offering support aid to local Central American governments in order to suss out the drug lords' infrastructure and destroy it. The only problem is these drug lords have a lot of financial support and military-grade equipment backing up their operations. After a disastrous raid left us down two attack helicopters and a number of military advisors, we needed to step up our game. We needed to be able to outgun and outmaneuver the enemy.
It's a good thing we had a whole bunch of state-of-the-art Apache helicopter gunships on hand and a few hotshot pilots ready and eager to take on those filthy drug dealers! It's also a good thing Jake Preston (Nicolas Cage) survived the previous raid because he has first hand knowledge about what our forces are up against. With some training from Officer Brad Little (Tommy Lee Jones) and help from other ready and eager pilots like Billie Lee Guthrie (Sean Young), we'll finally be able to take it to the enemy and win the war on drugs!
'Fire Birds' is one of those movies that came out just a few years too late to actually be cool. After a decade like the 80s that were populated with macho military exploitation movies like 'Rambo: First Blood Part 2,' 'Commando,' or 'Missing in Action' - 'Fire Birds' just feels a bit too late to the party to be fun. From frame one this movie lacks any kind of subtlety for it to be even remotely genuine. From director David Green's hyperactive film style to Nick Thiel and Paul F. Edwards screenplay - the movie is a gleeful mess of combat cliches. Part of the problem is the fact that this movie wants to position the Apache gunships as a piece of new technology - they'd been in development since the early 70s and have been in service since 1986. They're cool to look at sure, but this puff piece about their military capabilities feels more like a big-budget industrial film for a weapons convention than an actual movie intended to entertain an audience.
Performances are a big stumbling block for 'Fire Birds.' Normally I would characterize lead actors Nick Cage, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sean Young as decent, capable actors - especially since two of them won Oscars - but in this movie, they look and sound like they learned their lines phonetically just before cameras rolled. No one speaks with the confidence of a genuine performance. Tommy Lee Jones looks like he's practicing his commanding presence that he'd replicate in 'The Fugitive' but even after a few minutes he looks like a man who gave up trying and it just biding his time until the check clears. Then you have Cage who looks like he was hopped up on coffee and sugar and in desperate need of a Ritalin hit. Sean Young frequently looks like she's reading her lines off cue cards. When you put all three into a scene together it's as if they're pretending they're not in the same room, let alone interacting with one another. Everyone looks like they want off the movie and fast.
Then you have the very jingoistic war on drugs sub plot. This story aspect feels so half baked that it lacks any nuances of the politics involved. The film opens with a speech from then President Bush as a setup but then it quickly forgets why these people are fighting this war. Twenty five years removed and this movie hasn't aged very well since the general consensus of the war on drugs effort is that it caused more harm than good. Even if this movie's heart had been in the right place, the driving focus of the flick is showcasing the helicopters and how cool they are because they can shoot down other helicopters, take out tanks, and knock fighter jets out of the air and apparently fly upside down.
Normally this would actually be one of the best kind of schlocky action flicks that I absolutely love, but unfortunately it feels too disingenuous to be enjoyed. The first half of the film is a riot of bad cinema and hearing Cage chant "I am the greatest!" over and over again during a simulated combat mission was a stitch. But when the movie remembers it needs a plot at the end of the second act, the whole thing just becomes a bore and lacks any genuine excitement, intentional or otherwise. I would like to say this is one of those "so bad it's good" kind of movies - sadly it's just bad.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fire Birds' is brought to Blu-ray from Mill Creek and is pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens to a static main menu.
Considering it's only 25 years old, I wasn't expecting 'Fire Birds' 1080p 1.78:1 transfer to look this rough. Clearly this master dates back to the grand days of DVD and wasn't produced with high definition in mind. Grain is intermittently present. Some scenes look nicely detailed, others look like grain has been scrubbed away with a Brillo pad leaving faces and details to look smooth and waxy. Colors are relatively unimpressive and inconsistent, all you have to do is keep an eye on the flesh tones and the olive green uniforms and watch the color shift all over the spectrum. The sky can look perfectly natural and blue one second but then a moment later everything could be noticeably darker to the point that the sky looks almost purple. Black levels and shadows leave a lot to be desired as contrast looks like it's been kicked up several notches with some more artificial brightening employed leaving the image to look flat and lifeless. Add in some banding, haloing and you have a crunchy looking movie that would make a DVD blush with embarassment. It's a rough looking transfer from frame one until the credits role.
Sporting a very dated Dolby Digital 2.0 track - things do not improve for 'Fire Birds.' While imaging can be a bit of fun with helicopters zipping all over the screen during the climatic battle - everything else about this track just sounds off. For starters, dialogue has a false, hollow, tinny sound to it as if the actors who are clearly on screen together were recored in separate sound booths. Even when the scene is quiet and characters are just having a quiet conversation it sounds like people are speaking into plastic buckets. Sound effect elements and the score from David Newman don't fair much better - there is a lot of overlap and not enough separation so if there is a lot of action and yelling, it all collides into a cacophony of noise that is just uncomfortable to listen to and doesn't make for an enjoyable viewing experience.
There are no extra features.
There's a part of me that enjoys epic cinematic failures. Being a huge MST3k fan, it's hard not to love bad movies in their inherent terribleness. But when you get a really bad movie like 'Fire Birds' that doesn't even offer much in the way of riffing material, it just becomes a sad 'Top Gun' knockoff that features a great cast who must have been in need of a quick paycheck. With a genuinely bad A/V presentation and the lack of a single extra feature leads me to recommend folks skip this disc all together.