"A John Woo movie without doves flying everywhere? What the hell is going on"
Broken Arrow is pretty much what you’d expect from the long line of studio action films that followed the massive success of Speed. The film itself would hardly be worth more than a paragraph review if it weren’t directed by John Woo, one of the most innovative and exciting action directors in the history of cinema. The fact that Broken Arrow feels so run-of-the-mill is yet another example of a wonderful foreign talent reduced to mediocrity by Hollywood.After a disappointing but stylish American debut with the 1993 Jean Claude Van-Damme vehicle Hard Target, Broken Arrow marks the second stateside film of Hong Kong import Woo. But unlike Hard Target, which, despite a weak script and Van-Damme’s perm mullet, still managed to incorporate many of Woo’s favorite tricks, Broken Arrow strips away all of Woo’s artistry and reduces him to just another assembly line action director. You know if Woo had any artistic input at all there would have been flocks of doves flying around at some point in the movie.
But Broken Arrow is dove-less and lifeless, the worst American film of Sam Peckinpah’s heir apparent to the throne of violence made beautiful.
The scenario centers on a disgruntled air force lifer (John Travolta) who, tired of being passed over for promotions, decides to hijack a pair of nuclear weapons and hold them for ransom. It’s up to his inexperienced co-pilot (Christian Slater) and a pretty park ranger (Samantha Mathis) to stop him.
Travolta ‘s turn as a villain is like the film itself: effective in patches, uninspired for the remainder. He spouts off a few good lines but has just as many awful ones (Travolta’s “Ain’t it cool” response to Slater’s assertion that he’s insane is one of the all-time bad action movie lines), as Travolta fails to capture the sinister cool he so desperately strives for. Slater makes a rather bland hero and, along with the disastrous Hard Rain, Broken Arrow helped put a quick end to his career as an action hero.
Unlike the revenge bent protagonist of Hard Boiled or the delicate line between good and evil of The Killer, Speed scribe Graham Yost’s script is strictly big-budget action status quo. The good guys are good; the bad guys are bad. Insert punchless plot twists that merely serve to establish set pieces for action sequences.
Unfortunately, Woo doesn’t have much to work with in the Utah desert were the film is set. Removed from the gritty urban landscape of his past, Woo is reduced to standard explosions and thwarted by the physical limitations of his two stars. Given someplace like the hospital in Hard Boiled, Woo can transform an everyday location into a battlefield. But among the sand of cacti of Broken Arrow all he can manage to bring above standard action fare are a brief shoot out in an abandoned silver mine and portions of the overlong finale set aboard a train.With its bothersome music by Hans Zimmer and polished look, Broken Arrow feels more like a film by Michael Bay than John Woo.