Picks and Pans Review: Blue Thunder

updated 05/30/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For a silly, shallow, preposterously plotted film about a giant surveillance helicopter capable of wasting large cities, Blue Thunder is surprisingly absorbing entertainment, a real popcorn movie. Purportedly designed to keep L.A. safe from terrorists at the 1984 Olympics (but really a tool of military madmen), the armor-plated police chopper can fly at 200 mph, provide instant computer readouts on targets, fire 4,000 rounds of 20-mm shells in a single minute and peek down a hooker's dress at 1,000 feet. Nicknamed "Blue Thunder," this incredible hulk (adapted from a real helicopter, France's Aerospatiale Gazelle) can do everything but talk. That puts it at a distinct advantage over the actors, who must mouth the banal dialogue of writers Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby. Saddled with most of the lifeless lines is Roy Scheider, playing a dedicated L.A. cop who puts aside his problems involving lady friend Candy Clark, a near nervous breakdown and recurrent nightmares of chopper duty in Vietnam to sleuth out the evils in Blue Thunder. After Jaws and The French Connection, Scheider could play this kind of part in his sleep—an understandable temptation given the futility of trying to steal scenes from a helicopter—but instead he gives his all. So do the late Warren Oates as his captain, Malcolm McDowell as a sniveling villain and Daniel (Diner) Stern as Scheider's novice copilot. "You're supposed to be stupid," Scheider tells Stern. He's right. Bungling co-pilots are a movie convention, and Blue Thunder has a healthy respect for those. Director John (Saturday Night Fever) Badham even manages to make his flying machine look simultaneously like the mother ship in Close Encounters and the shark in Jaws. (He did, after all, work as an associate producer for Steven Spielberg.) But when it works, wow. John Alonzo's nighttime L.A. aerial photography is stunning, and tender hearts will be grateful that Badham wreaks tons of havoc but little gore. Aside from some nudity and four-letter words, Blue Thunder is as clean and one-dimensional as a computer display screen. It'll make a great video game. (R)

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