Bird on a Wire
Journeyman director John Badham is still going, it’s just that he’s been confined to the small screen where his invisible style is ideally suited. Bird forms the second installment of an unofficial action-comedy trilogy (with Stakeout and The Hard Way). Because he’s one of those invisible, “shoot it quick, get it done” hands, most folks probably aren’t aware of who directed Bird, they just know it’s the one that teams up Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn.
Which is fair enough, frankly, as that’s about all it has going for it. Not a team-up that should be underestimated, as they have fantastic chemistry (and you wouldn’t know that Goldie’s almost a decade Mel’s senior). But really, there’s so little else going for his lazy, by-the-numbers escapade of a con in witness protection who goes on the run with his former girlfriend when the men he testified against set on his trail.
Mediocrity is no barrier to success, of course. I admit that when I first saw the film I thought it was an agreeable, if forgettable, time-passer. But the decades have been less than kind to what is a thoroughly ‘80s movie in all but release date; it came out in the summer of 1990. And was a surprise hit, nestling comfortably in the top ten movies that season while Gibson’s more expensive Air America flopped. But Badham was on a winning streak in the ‘80s. It would be more remembered if he weren’t so damn anonymous; Blue Thunder, War Games, Short Circuit, the aforementioned Stakeout. Bird is run-of-the-mill even by his standards, however. There’s so little effort put into the action scenes, all predictable slow-mo and close-ups of the stars - who are clearly nowhere near the second unit. He rouses himself slightly for the zoo finale, but by then its too late.
Mel’s in “mullet Riggs” mode as Rick Jarmin, except that he ties the back of it in a very silly ponytail. He’s sleepwalking through the role, although a few of the gags (which are mostly terrible) have his fingerprints on them (the opening bit with the dummy legs is just his kind of thing, also getting punched in the face Three Stooges style). Credit to him, though, he remembers to diligently act “shot in the butt” for most of the movie. And he perks up a bit when it comes to a spot of mincing as a gay hairdresser, a sequence that can only fuel the general view of the actor as one of boundless intolerance. But he’s clearly having a hoot with Goldie (playing Marianne Graves), who’s clearly having a hoot with him. It only takes a moment of her infectious laughter to be reminded of how adorable she is (and what a consummate comedienne). Her body double’s arse is in excellent shape too.
The supporting cast (that should be villains really, as hardly anyone else gets a look in) are poorly served. Bill Duke and David Carradine are only memorable in so much as they have presence as actors. Stephen Tobolowsky fares better in so much as this is the most unlikely role you’re likely to see him in; can you imagine Ned Ryerson beating up Martin Riggs? Well, here’s your chance to see it happen.
Hans Zimmer contributes a particularly lousy ‘80s action movie score, which is appropriate icing on an insubstantial cake. I’m not sure whether I should be disturbed or not, but I knew exactly the bits in the movie that were used in the trailer. Since they’re mostly the best bits, you can save yourself the trouble of watching the whole movie and check it out below.