Picks and Pans Review: Air America

updated 08/27/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/27/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr.

The subject of this film is one of those dummy companies set up by the CIA to serve as a front for its operations. That is appropriate, since this is a dummy movie, which seems to satirize the CIA presence in Laos during the Vietnam War but serves only to deflect attention, never generating anything like a sense of outrage.

Veteran action-film director Roger (Under Fire) Spottiswoode and writers John (Pink Cadillac) Eskow and Richard (The Stunt Man) Rush crosscut an image of President Nixon speaking on television with a shot of a pig. They involve the CIA official who is running the agency's Laos-based air force in a drug deal. They show a bumbling U.S. Senator, played by Lane (Weeds) Smith, on an inspection tour, and a refugee camp run by an American, Nancy (Internal Affairs) Travis.

Yet too often the whole business seems like a lark.

It's easy to see why Downey wanted to be in the cast: so he could be in a Mel Gibson movie. But Gibson's motivation is more of a mystery. He plays, in very routine fashion, the hardened veteran among the contract pilots who fly for the CIA. Downey, a traffic-copter pilot in Los Angeles until he buzzes a traffic jam to berate a trucker rubbernecking at an accident, is the young, relatively idealistic type who's aghast when he learns that Gibson has a private weapons business going on the side but becomes his pal anyway.

Downey's near romance with Travis is typical of the movie's half-heartedness. He flirts with her in a couple of scenes but never gets any closer, and the movie never gets any closer to being involved with the helpless people she's working with. While Gibson has a Laotian wife and children—another potentially involving turn—he spends almost no time with them.

Meanwhile the CIA types are portrayed by David Marshall (The Big Town) Grant and Ken (Matewan) Jenkins as such chronic bumblers that their ruthlessness seems inconsequential.

Anyone who's looking for evidence of Hollywood's preoccupation with the buddy-ness of buddy movies—to the exclusion (and detriment) of almost every other consideration—need look no further than this film. (R)

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