Picks and Pans Review: Fire Birds

updated 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Nicolas Cage, Tommy Lee Jones

Cage, whose films include Vampire's Kiss, Birdy and David Lynch's new Wild at Heart, is an odd choice for an action hero. With his hangdog look and mushy monotone, he seems like a guy you'd agree to follow only if you were stuck behind him in a traffic jam.

Other than that, though, this is a lively B adventure movie—Pentagon budget promotion film about new attack helicopters used to roust Latin American drug dealers.

Director David (Buster) Green apparently got full Defense Department cooperation—to include equipment and personnel—in filming balletic aerial sequences over the Arizona desert. Aircraft haven't been shot this lovingly since John Wayne's P-40 peeled off in Flying Tigers—or at least since the F-14 Tomcats in Top Gun. (Richard T. Stevens choreographed Green's aerial sequences; Stan McClain directed them.)

Jones also gives the film a boost as a warrant officer training pilots for the AH-64A Apache helicopters, which look like flying dumpsters but seem capable of astonishing maneuvers. Jones's easy, self-deprecating style relieves some of the heavy mood cast by Cage. He even pulls off a patriotic speech when he talks about "cookin' full tilt boogie for freedom and justice."

The love interest between Cage and Sean (No Way Out) Young has a twist to it. She plays a helicopter pilot too, but she has a line that mangles the feminist attitudes she represents, pleading, "Come on, Jake, save my ass!" to Cage when they get into combat.

The script, by veteran TV writers Nick Thiel and Paul F. Edwards, is often laughable. When Cage socks a man who's dancing with Young, she informs him, "I'm not a piece of steak for you two to fight over."

Never mind. We're here to watch helicopters hover, dive, loop, spin and generally go through your-tax-dollars-at-work routines. The film moves along smartly and is often intriguing to watch, like a gorilla pounding his chest. (PG-13)

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