28 November 2011

Flight of Black Angel

United States – 1991
Director – Johnathan Mostow
Starmaker Entertainment, 1991, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 42 minutes

I can only guess why 1991 seemed like a good year to try and follow up the success of 1986’s Tom Cruise fueled boner-fest Top Gun with a flight-school drama. The six months prior to Flight of Black Angel was thick with patriotic chest-beating and the film was released upon the eager eyeholes of the United Statesian public on the very day the Operation Desert Storm ground assault began. But to make your jet oriented film you either set it during an actual war, or you make it something with jets in the background. If We're perfectly honest though, while a little war might prime the public, neither Top Gun, Flight of Black Angel, or Hot Shots (also 1991, also with FoBA's star) actually takes place during a war. In that case your only choice is to make a film that uses common and well worn genre conventions centered around a few aircraft props, which basically means that you’ve got yourself a jetsploitation flick.

Captain Gordon, call-sign Black Angel (William O’Leary) may be the best pilot at the Air Force Academy, but that’s little consolation when there is no real “enemy,” no war in which to exercise the power you possess and really get some. Instead he gleans what ego-stroking thrills he can by “killing” the other students he’s sent against during training maneuvers. In truth though, this hollow promise of power is merely a cruel, emasculating jest. You see, on the inside poor Captain Gordon is tormented and alone. He still lives at home with his parents where the agony of Christian repression manifests itself in the rigid unsocialized misery of silent family barbecues and gleaming gun collections. So, when his superior officer gives Gordon the off-hand compliment “you’re the one,” something in his head clicks. Suddenly his apocalyptic call sign seems tailor-made for a lifetime of 700 Club episodes. Gordon/Black Angel snaps, assassinates his family and steals his aircraft with the intention of obliterating “sin” by nuking Las Vegas.

Mom, Dad, we need to talk.

Alas, in his religious zeal Black Angel has gotten ahead of himself and forgotten our important rule of Jetsploitation. We’ve still got advertisers to please and a viewing public to engross. The tray-table airplane puns in the first scene did a lot of work in making the audience feel at home, but we can’t yet count on their full emotional investment. After all, the Vegas thing was pretty abrupt and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything really tangible at stake yet. If we could throw in a family with an infant to make it all seem like a real pressing threat to innocence that might be good. Black Angel will park the jet in a barn for half an hour take a family hostage and use their car to run some errands and work on his plane while padding out the running time. Everyone will scramble around in a panic for a while and then we’ll wrap it up with a nice heroic ending that emphasizes the whole objective neutrality of military hardware angle. Cut to commercial.

Oh Peter Strauss, this movie is SO not about you.

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