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Slipstream
(1989)
 

Director: Steven M. Lisberger     
Cast: Bill Paxton, Bob Peck, Mark Hamill, Kitty Aldridge


If you have an idea for a movie, be sure that you can carry it off for the entire movie. And if you add unusual props, settings, and special effects, be sure that you have the budget to pull it off with success. Slipstream doesn't follow the above formula, yet I hesitate to call it a failure. Usually I would call an unrecommended movie with some good stuff an "interesting failure". This movie doesn't have quite enough good stuff to call it "interesting", yet it also doesn't botch things badly enough to really be called a "failure". This movie has spun a new kind of critical rating, I suppose.

In the near future, natural disasters have destroyed most of the earth. After the holocaust, a new wind appeared to blow clean the planet. These high winds remained and are referred to as being part of the "slipstream". How this wind gets generated and what remaining centers of population think of them didn't concern me as much as the fact that even with the title, the slipstream could be eliminated from the script with extremely little rewriting.

Some intrigue and interest is generated after the setup, with policeman Will Tasker (Hamill) and his female sidekick (whose name I don't think is ever uttered in the movie) chasing in their futuristic airplane a mysterious figure (Peck) dressed in a pin-striped suit running in the middle of nowhere.
After they land and capture Peck, they take him to what seems to be a "airplane stop" for fellow flyers. (It looks like an ordinary truck stop with some garbage thrown around inside and outside). Bounty hunter Max (Paxton) eyes the two policemen's prisoner and sees him as his ticket for a small fortune. So he takes "Byron" (which is what he thinks the stranger's name is in a contrived sequence) by gunpoint and flies off with him, with Hamill and what's-her-name in pursuit. Max is correct in guessing that Byron is worth something, but slowly starts to realize that he doesn't know some important things about his prisoner, or his crime. Byron supposedly is a servant who killed his master, but it runs much deeper than that.

Okay, not a bad premise. Sets up a lot of plot possibilities and chances for post-apocalypse sets and special effects. But for the latter two, the movie shows once again that the British simply can't do such things successfully unless they have a big budget. American F/X crews can do impressive things on low budgets, which the British simply can't figure out how to do. Consider the flying sequences; when the airplane is flying through a canyon in high winds trying to escape its pursuers, it is painfully obvious that the canyon is a model, and the fleeing airplane image is imposed with such murky colors that it looks like it was cut out and pasted on the negative. In fact, most of the movie is shot with overcast skies and muddy colors. Ruins of a city are obviously the Turkish Cappadocia cave dwelling carved out of the mountain hundreds of years ago (and the extras in the village are unmistakably Turkish). Most of the "action" in the movie is planes casually flying around, and one important plane crash is only heard, not seen (We see the aftereffects.)

There is one well-done special-effect/action scene. Landing in a remote village during their travels, Max and Byron are captured by anti-technology villagers, and Byron is tied to a gigantic kite and flown hundreds of feet above the village in the roaring slipstream at night. Max rescues Byron by ingeniously tying himself to the kite rope and being blown up to the kite by releasing his parachute. The darkness hides the model work somewhat (and is appropriate for the time of day). But even if the special effects were poorer, the scene would still work, for it is swiftly executed and makes viewers believe that there's a chance one of both of the men could be killed.

 Despite the poor sets and effects (with the exception of the above sequence), the movie could still rise above its limitations with a good story. The British have managed to do this with sci-fi, like with Dr. Who, which had poor sets and effects but well-told and engaging stories. The movie doesn't lack a good premise, but it doesn't have any idea how to pull it off. The rest of the movie is just a collection of vignettes, with Max and Byron traveling from one place to another, with each new location not usually having any purpose except to fill in time. Occasionally there is a moment of genuine interest, but seldom does it have anything to do with the plot. None of these vignettes is exactly terrible, but they're more like a waste of time. We eventually learn more about Byron's crime, but we never learn exactly why he did what he did. Where are Byron and Max traveling to, anyway? Are we supposed to feel any sympathy to Max (who acts like a real jerk), or are we supposed to be on Byron's side?

As for the performances, they are mostly average, but there's one exceptional performance that belongs to...Mark Hamill. I'm not joking - his performance here is excellent, and he didn't make me once think during the viewing that he was taking a breather from a Star Wars shoot. (Actually, with his beard he reminded me of how Malcolm McDowall looks like these days!) His Will Tasker character is convincingly bad, yet you also sense that a long, long time ago in a gal- sorry - you sense that his character in the past was not so evil, or never was - not an easy thing for an actor to do. Too bad that Hamill only makes a few short appearances in the movie aside from the first and last 10 minutes of the movie.

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See also: Laserhawk, Survivor, No Blade Of Grass

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