Saturday, June 14, 2014


Clint Eastwood plays a vulnerable man of action in his first big special effects picture.

For the high-tech espionage thriller FIREFOX, a cross between THE IPCRESS FILE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, producer Eastwood hired John Dykstra, who had won an Academy Award for STAR WARS, to create the visual effects. Despite the film’s leisurely pace, overcomplicated storyline, and generally tepid reviews, FIREFOX opened at number-two at the box office (behind E.T.: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, which ranks number-one or two every weekend the summer of 1982) and became one of Clint’s biggest hits.

Craig Thomas wrote the 1977 novel upon which FIREFOX is based, and screenwriters Wendell Wellman and Alex Lasker must have had a heckuva battle whittling it to 135 minutes. One way was to jettison the training sequence, condensing three months into just a few minutes of screen time. Mitchell Gant (Eastwood), a ‘Nam vet and former POW suffering from PTSD, is recruited by the CIA and MI6 for a secret mission into the Soviet Union to steal a super-airplane called Firefox.

Firefox is not just faster than any other airplane and invisible to radar, but more spectacularly, it’s controlled by its pilot’s thoughts, allowing it to maneuver and fire its weapons instantaneously. The only American pilot capable of flying Firefox, due to his Russian mother who taught him fluency in the language, Gant infiltrates Moscow under a cover identity (then another, then another…) and, with the help of some Soviet sacrificial lambs, manages (finally) to reach the hangar containing the aircraft.

Eastwood hadn’t released a straight action vehicle since 1979’s ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, which may explain why audiences starved for one queued up to see one that isn’t very good. Bogged down in technobabble dialogue spoken by nondescript white character actors in a variety of accents, FIREFOX is too long and not terribly interesting. Eastwood the actor is fine, using Gant’s PTSD to reveal a vulnerable chink in his heroic persona, though his breakdowns are a little conveniently timed for melodramatic effect.

Eastwood the director, however, is not working to his star’s level, and neither are Dykstra’s visual effects. His company, Apogee, was experimenting with different ways to photograph models. Considering Eastwood was directing with his largest budget to date, the visual effects are just okay, but pale next to those in E.T., STAR TREK II, and the other major studio science fiction movies of 1982.

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