Cast: Michael Madsen, R. Lee Ermey, Robert Vaughn
Well, it had to happen sooner or later, I suppose. You
can't be perfect
all the time; eventually you'll screw up. That's what's happened to
Entertainment, the company who for the past several years has been
out a constant supply of very pleasing slick action movies. But with The
Sender, their track record is broken. What's surprising is not
that I wasn't expecting them not to eventually come up with a
movie. No, what is really surprising is that they have managed to
completely screw things up with this movie. Almost everything that made
their previous movies so great is either missing or incompetently
What went wrong? At first, it seems like it'll be good;
the movie was
directed by Pepin, one of the heads of P.M., who has previously
some entertaining movies; Madsen did a good job in his previous P.M.
Target; the cast also includes cult
Ermey and Vaughn; and there's nothing really wrong with the premise of
the movie. But everything is handled in such a sloppy manner or with no
enthusiasm (in front of or behind the camera). I'm not sure why this
went so wrong, but I found some possible clues in the credits. The
credits, instead of saying "A Joseph Merhi / Richard Pepin Production"
instead indicate a co-production with the words "In Association With
Inc.". So sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth, but there's also
possibility P.M. took over a troubled production. Possible clues to
possibility can be found in the closing credits - the film lists three
(an unusual amount for a B-movie), and for the Second Unit, there are
not only for the director, but for a "First Assistant Director",
Assistant Director, and a "Second Second Assistant Director"! If a
Unit needs that much help, you know there has to be trouble.
Whether there were some problems behind the scenes or
not, the results
are bad all the same. As I said before, the movie doesn't immediately
off bad. The plot: In 1965, Air Force pilot Jack Grayson and his squad
are flying their propeller driven fighters (in 1965?) in the Bermuda
Suddenly, their instruments go crazy, and a gigantic U.F.O. comes out
the clouds (an excellent special effect, by the way.) Grayson gets into
a dogfight with a smaller U.F.O. coming from the main ship, but ends up
with his plane downed into the sea. The three other pilots decide to
the incident a secret.
So far, so good. Cut to present-day L.A. at the
shipyards, where the
wreckage of Grayson's plane, recently discovered, has been shipped.
sent to Edwards Air Force Base, the son of Grayson (Dallas, working in
Naval Intelligence), demands to see the plane, just driven to the base.
Suddenly, several unidentified nutcases commandeer the truck and drives
off with the airplane, leading to a chase. This is where the movie
to go wrong. How did Dallas know about the plane? How did he know it
his father's? Who are these nutcases (who are never identified or
again after the chase)? The chase soon has Dallas struggling on the
of the truck with them, trading punches and rolling around, with his
somehow staying on his face. This could have been a cool sequence, but
it is directed so badly - too many close-ups of the occupants in cars,
and the camera pointing at awkward angles during the inevitable car
scenes - that it seems even the editor couldn't get the sequence to
sense or exciting.
Afterwards, Dallas picks up his daughter from the
hospital, where she
has just made a miraculous recovery from terminal cancer. Her claims of
being saved by an "angel" are closer to the truth than he thinks -
to him, it turns out that she has been given frequent secret visits by
a woman who is obviously from another world. During another visit that
night, a government SWAT team hides outside Dallas' house, tracking the
alien. Breaking in, they just miss getting the alien, but kidnap
daughter, badly wound Dallas, and set a bomb in his house. The alien
to save and heal Dallas in time (somehow also repairing the bullet hole
and blood stain on his shirt), then teaming up with Dallas to tell him
the truth and assist him in rescuing his daughter. When we learn the
it's kind of a letdown; we've pretty much guessed the "surprises" we
Plus, although there is a connection between the opening of the movie
the present events, it's a link so thin that the opening sequence could
be completely cut out and the rest of the screenplay adjusted by just
a few lines of dialogue.
Whatever the screenplay, P.M. movies live for one thing
- the action
sequences - but these subsequent scenes are all poorly handled. As
for P.M., the movie is slickly shot, occasionally adding oomph to the
(there is a nice visual when an RV collides with a hay truck.) Slick
can only add a little, so we are mainly treated to car chases that are
handled about just as well as the chase earlier in the movie. One
intended to be a knockout - a dogfight over L.A. between helicopters
a U.F.O. - is ruined by the use of an incredibly dreary musical score.
The dreariness of the movie seems to have drifted to the cast. Madsen
absolutely awful in this movie, giving no emotion or sound to lines
"You son of a bitch - let my daughter go." His character doesn't really
have that much depth to him, anyway, and double that for the "Angel"
Think of the interesting conversations that could happen between a
and someone from another world. Not here.
Some interesting questions come up during the movie,
including: If the
"Angel" can zap cars off the road with her powers, why does she use a
against the enemy at the end? Could a nuclear generator really blow up
in less than three minutes? How come Robert Vaughn looks so much older
than how he did a few years ago? Where are the transition scenes of
doing things like getting into their cars and onto the road? And what
to the P.M. trademark of countless sequences of glass being broken?
The results of this mess combine to make a good-looking
with a silly script that might have been saved by strong and competent
directing. It's also a real disappointment from a company that has been
trusted in the past to deliver the goods. Still, you have to look at
silver lining - this is the only bad P.M. movie to have been made in
past few years. I trust that soon they'll be back on track.
UPDATE: "Violator1969" sent this along:
actually making a minor contribution! In
your review, you question the use of propeller-driven fighters in 1965,
actually valid. The US used at least one (which was, I think, the
Douglas A-34 Skyraider, but I'm not sure) in Vietnam, as late as 1968
numbers. It did some work as a forward air controller, but mostly
served as surface-to-air missile bait because it was so slow. It spent
the rest of its years as a trainer.
"Too bad the rest of the movie didn't fly as well as the plane."
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See also: Executive Target,
The Silencers, Laserhawk