Billy Covington: [Gene is loading a machine gun] Excuse me, is that an Uzi?
Billy Covington: I don't wanna crash twice in one day!
Gene Ryack: Here at Air America, what's considered psychotic behavior anywhere else is company policy.
Billy Covington: Gene, you can't sell the plane! It's government property!
Senator Davenport: ...and unless my eyes deceive me...
CoverUps.com Rating: 1 UFO
By the CoverUps.com staff
Shipped off to Laos in 1969, pilot Billy (Robert Downey Jr.) joins “Air America,” a covert C.I.A. airline that delivers all manner of supplies, drugs, and weapons to that godforsaken nation during the Vietnam War, despite a prevaricating government back in the states denying any involvement in the shenanigans. As he bonds with ace pilot Gene (Mel Gibson), Billy finds himself riding the bumpy skies, doing his best to remain airborne over hostile territory. Soon growing wise to the criminal nature of his undertakings, Billy dreams of disrupting the airline, while Gene, closing in on retirement, tries to talk him out of taking any rash action.
Sold as an uninhibited Vietnam comedy, it’s easy to see why Air America misfired at the box office, despite Gibson's star power. 1990 was a hinky year for him, with “Air America” joining “Bird on a Wire” and director Franco Zeffirelli’s “Hamlet” to mark a sharp turn off the beaten path for the actor, who took his “Lethal Weapon 2” loot and decided to shake up his career with this trio of offbeat projects. While not out-and-out bombs, the three films didn’t give the moviegoer any reassurance that Gibson's presence on the marquee would guarantee a good film-going outing.
Being a Carolco venture, buckets of money were lavished on “Air America”, and the film looks wonderful bombing around its Thai environs, rounding up an impressive variety of aircraft to populate the unfriendly skies. Director Roger Spottiswoode makes a truly pretty picture, but he can’t conjure up the spark, offering instead a film of enormous visual proficiency but almost no personality. Despite its formidable A-list star, “Air America” is a desperately forgettable movie, struggling futilely to work up some excitement with dismal action sequences, DOA comedy, and a tale of drifting morality that’s perfunctorily rendered from a cast capable of executing panic with some flamboyance, but never any sincerity.
Straining for a faux-subversive “MASH” helping of ridicule, “Air America” botches its satiric salvos and historical gravitas, turning instead to the atta-boy fraternity between Gibson and Downey Jr. (who labor in vain to spark any real chemistry) and the occasional explosion over attempting any full-throated political declarations.
It’s a buddy comedy in the wrong setting, with the shock of war as a backdrop to American tomfoolery, betraying a frustration with the government's ever-present poker face and the endless ambient murky hues of the Vietnam conflict. The story’s clear enough, but there’s no life in all the arid plotting. Spottiswoode depends on the bigness of it all to push his way through, but “Air America” never finds anything like a righteous voice — it’s all costly ghost town atmospherics, with two handsome leads going through the motions and looking forward to cashing their paychecks.