Fire Birds (Special Edition)

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Jul 12, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The drug war has grown out of control – and a handful of hotshot chopper pilots are the only ones who can stop it! Talented rookie Jake Preston (Nicolas Cage) is recruited into an Army / DEA joint task force newly formed to shut down the South American cartels through the use of high-tech Apache helicopters. It’s not going to be easy – especially when your aging flight instructor (Tommy Lee Jones) views you as a threat to your manhood, and you have to deal with the distraction of your ex-girlfriend (Blade Runner’s Sean Young) being a ‘copter pilot on the same base.

Released in 1990, Fire Birds shows every bit of its age, from its music to its fashion. (The film opens with a quote from George Bush Sr.’s first televised address, which had aired only a few months before the movie arrived in theaters.) Clearly intended to ride high on the coattails of Top Gun's success four years earlier, Fire Birds does have a few things going for it, between its enjoyable leads (Jones and Cage) and the fact that Apaches are super-badass; the aerial sequences, too, are coordinated by the same crew as Top Gun’s, and actor/military consultant Dale Dye will give any war-related movie some sense of legitimacy. Fire Birds’ biggest problem (of many), however, is that it’s miles from being the “nonstop action-adventure” movie its marketing promised. The helicopter dogfights – which are awesome – don’t arrive until the very end of the movie. That leaves most of Fire Birds’ runtime dedicated to Nic Cage sexually harassing his uninterested girlfriend, or Jones moping about the younger, more virile helicopter pilots he’s been asked to train. The only action intersecting any of that is Cage sitting in a cockpit simulator and playing an actual MS-DOS flight sim.

That’s not to say Fire Birds can’t be enjoyed if you go in with intentionally low expectations. It doesn’t feature Nicolas Cage at his craziest, but there are a few delightfully Cage-y moments within his performance; for some reason he plays a lot of the film through a mouthful of bubblegum, and one of the flight simulator training sequences has the actor screaming “I am the greatest!” after every hit, in increasing frenzy. The movie’s main villain has no lines: a bearded, middle-aged cartel pilot who does little more than grimace inside his chopper’s cockpit. B-movie fans should also enjoy monitoring Cage and Sean Young’s total lack of on-screen chemistry during the movie’s many romantic interludes; Young, in particular, appears medically sedated, registering next to zero emotion in her monotone line readings.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray edition presents the movie with bright, crisp colors, 5.1 sound, and an audio commentary from director David Green.


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