It’s been a few months since Steven Seagal last bequeathed unto the world a new direct-to-DVD action flick, and for someone, somewhere, it’s probably been too long. If you were expecting that the man’s first 2007 offering, Flight of Fury, was going to be a stylistic departure, you will be disappointed, if not inconsolable.
Flight of Fury doesn’t deal with humankind’s search for meaning, nor does it depict the struggle of an artist to create beautiful things in a world incapable of understanding him. Flight of Fury is a movie about a stolen airplane. There is only one man who can get that airplane back. In a cinematic homage to every other movie Steven Seagal has ever been in, the only man capable of retrieving the airplane is Steven Seagal.
This go-round, Seagal stars as roguish ex-military man, John Sands, not to be confused with any other roles he’s played in which his character is named “John” followed by a vaguely tough sounding noun/plural noun (see: Jonathan Cold in 2005’s Black Dawn).
Seagal actually looks quite a bit healthier than he did in his last Michael Keutsch directed feature, Attack Force. In that film, Seagal’s foray into poorly conceived sci-fi territory, was pretty weak in its depiction of melee violence. From the beginning of Flight of Fury, it’s obvious that Segal provide a lot more on-screen ass kicking than in his previous offering.
John Sands is in the custody of a top secret wing of the US government that intends to wipe his mind. Unfortunately for the doctor performing the memory erasure, most of the people in the room besides him are Sands’ inside men and women. Sands remains strapped down for approximately 10 seconds before freeing himself. All those in the room not on his side learn a valuable lesson: try to wipe John Sands’ memory with your top secret military technology, and he’ll wipe the floor with your ass, and his ass with your face, and so on and so forth. He escapes the base in true action hero style: by doing that thing where you get underneath a stopped truck and hang on to the axle.
But that’s really all just exposition. The true drama of Flight of Fury surrounds a stolen Stealth Fighter. You may remember the Stealth Fighter from the first Gulf War, when the whole world was a simpler place and the country with the coolest airplanes was the country with unassailable cultural hegemony. Before the Stealth came along, middle school boys frequently bullshitted at length about the F-14 Tomcat and the SR-71 Blackbird. But the sleek black form of the Stealth changed all that. The Stealth was so completely awesome that many believed that it could only have been created using technology borrowed from UFOs.
The Stealth fighter in Flight of Fury is even more awesome, and not to mention stealthier, than the Gulf War incarnation of the aircraft. It has an “active stealth” feature that allows the plane to turn invisible to the naked eye, much like Wonder Woman’s plane. General Barnes (Angus McInnes) is witness to the Stealth’s first test flight. He tells the pilot, Ratcher (Steve Touissant) to “make that plane disappear”, foreshadowing like no man has foreshadowed before. Tailed by maverick-yet-wet-behind-the-ears pilot Jannick (Mark Bazeley) on the test run, Ratcher makes off with the plane. This is communicated through a crippingly boring montage of spliced together stock footage of airplanes taking off and flying around.
Meanwhile, John Sands coincidentally finds himself in the middle of a liquor store robbery, and unleashes a vigilante bloodbath of Charles Bronsonian proportions onto the perpetrators, even going as far as to slide unrealistically across the floor while firing his weapon. He gets hauled in by the local cops, because while you *are* allowed to kill people in self defense, you’re not allowed to kill each person in the room 15 times before he hits the ground. Of course, you’re not allowed to kill government officials for trying to erase your memory, either. The army, through its mouthpiece General Barnes, assures Sands that he’ll no longer be on the hook for all the people he’s killed in the preceding 30 minutes of the film, which would by this point, in reality, amount to mass murder.
Sands teams up with Jannick to track down Ratcher, who, turns out was trained by you know who. Also turns out that Sands is the best Stealth pilot on the face of the earth, and Ratcher is the second best. These ideas are revealed and explored, like most major plot points in Flight of Fury, through a grueling, excessively long conversation between Sands and Barnes in a room with lots of computer and television screens that all show the same map.
Rachett meets up with Rojar (Alki David), an international terrorist who looks like a boxer, and Sands and his elite plane-retrieval team descend on Afghanistan, to either save the plane or blow it up. Though all of this comprises about 20 minutes of the film, the movie amazingly manages to stretch on to feature length, and new characters are introduced about every 20 minutes.
Navy Admiral Pendleton is introduced in order to exchange manly army-dude platitudes with General Barnes, carry on stilted, vaguely homoerotic conversations with another officer, and freak out about how important it is that they get back the plane. On the ground in Afghanistan, we meet Jessica (Ciera Payton), who is, like every woman, a one time love interest of John Sands.
When Sands arrives at her house, he is followed by terrorist agent Eliana (Katie Jones), who Jessica is able to distract. How, you may ask? Always a quick thinker, she initiates a scene of girl-on-girl action with Elaina, as if there were any other way to distract someone. Sands overlooks the lukewarm softcore shenanigans from the corner, stoic even as he watches two clearly straight women pretending to make out with each other.
When the real action on the ground begins in Afghanistan, that’s when Flight of Fury delivers everything anyone could ask of it, which is not much. There’s lots of machine gunnings, frequent explosions, pistol whippings, shiruken throwings, and the suchlike. Sure, there’s the fact that Afghanistan looks less like a country torn apart by decades of civil war and more like the outskirts of a developing suburb, and sure, the film doesn’t necessarily present current theological and geopolitical conflicts in all their subtlety. But you’d hope that people don’t watch Steven Seagal films expecting astute, trenchant social commentary (in fact, if people do, society is probably doomed.) Hopefully, people watch films like this to see Steven Seagal hit a dude in the face with a lead pipe, which most definitely occurs in Flight of Fury.
When it comes down to it, Flight of Fury is another vehicle for Seagal’s bizarre self-aggrandizement. Look no further than John Sands’ reference to himself as “Bad Mojo” while flying the reclaimed Stealth home after a harrowing firefight with Ratchett. Real-life Seagal released a disc of himself performing blues songs entitled Mojo Priest, which allegedly ain’t too bad, so there’s definitely some sort of deeply arcane referentiality going on here. One can only assume that it’s Seagal’s attempt to foment a cult of personality that keeps these movies profitable, and you have to kind of respect that.
You also have to respect anyone who can deliver lines like “What’s this about? Money? Uncle Sam didn’t give you enough money? Your momma didn’t give you enough money?” and “I wish I had the time to whoop your ass and then shoot you – but I gotta go”, especially since they’re delivered with such raspy insouciance, in that weird on-screen accent Seagal speaks in that has no discernible ethnic origin or real-life analog.
Flight of Fury at times attempts to ennoble the human spirit; wrangling sporadically and haphazardly with issues of greed, patriotism, and the American way. This is tried and true territory for crappy Air Force movies since their heyday in the mid-‘80s (see: the Iron Eagle franchise). When it comes down to it, though, Flight of Fury keeps the body count high, the martial arts action constant, the main character infallible, and the dialogue insipid. For those with the tenacity to stay awake in between the scenes when people are getting beaten to death and/or when girls uninterestedly touch each others’ boobs, Flight of Fury is as enjoyable—no—watchable, as you’d expect.