1996, R, 108 min. Directed by John Woo. Starring John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Feb. 9, 1996
A lively action picture with a spirited sense of humor, Broken Arrow is a great deal of fun, even if it isn't exactly a return to form for its celebrated director, former Hong Kong action auteur John Woo. The script, written by Speed scribe Graham Yost, follows that hit's “pull-out-all-the-stops” formula that takes a seemingly impossible situation -- in this case, it's a pair of young heroes, an air force pilot (Slater) and a park ranger (Mathis), trying to stop a charismatic maniac from stealing a pair of nuclear weapons -- and then complicating it a thousandfold. In Yost's world, things always have a habit of going from bad to worse, and it's this relentless approach that supplies Broken Arrow with its non-stop barrage of chases, fist fights, explosions, and gunplay. Woo, always the craftsman, realizes these explosive moments with plenty of verve -- his restless camera endlessly spinning, panning, and tracking alongside the characters, capturing the action with a nervous energy. But, surprisingly, the greatest joy to be found here is not in the action sequences but, rather, in Travolta's wildly comic, deliciously evil turn as the chief bad guy, who, like all great villains, may be crazed and psychotic, but proves irresistible, nonetheless. The rest of the cast is also good, with Slater and Mathis making a likable, attractive pair of heroes, and co-star Delroy Lindo projecting a memorable presence and stoic dignity -- an impressive feat given his minimal amount of screen time. Good performances, cool action, jackrabbit pacing, and a decent script… so what's wrong with Broken Arrow? Well, it's just that I miss the poetry and unabashed romanticism of Woo's previous films. Occasionally, the Woo touch is obvious. It's clear during the slam-bang sequence inside an abandoned copper mine, or when, after a particularly narrow escape, the camera takes time out to follow a fluttering butterfly across the surface of a shining lake -- but, all too often, Broken Arrow feels like watered-down Woo. His patented use of slow motion, dissolves, freeze-frames, and (of course) extraordinarily messy blood squibs, are almost totally absent here, and while that probably won't mean much to the average moviegoer, for the hard-core Woo aficionado, it's somewhat jarring, to say the least. Still, despite the picture's virtual lack of Wooisms, and a couple of silly errors in logic, Broken Arrow has a lot going for it… and stands on its own as a supremely entertaining Hollywood-style actioner, even if we've come to expect a bit more than that from a master like John Woo.