John Travolta continues his amazing comeback in "Broken Arrow," an utterly preposterous but thoroughly enjoyable action thriller about a renegade Air Force pilot who steals two nuclear weapons. Travolta has a ball playing Major Vic Deakins, an ultra-cool jockey of a Stealth bomber. What no one knows is that deep down, Vic is an amoral, nihilistic sadist.
This is in contrast to his co-pilot, Captain Riley Hale, played by Christian Slater as a real straight arrow. While on a training mission, Deakins ejects both Hale and their plane's nuclear payload over Monument Valley, Calif., and the game begins.
Hale is picked up by a park ranger, Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis), who helps him attempt to stop Deakins and the private army he has assembled for a plan for nuclear blackmail.
The title of "Broken Arrow" comes from a military code for a situation in which a nuclear weapon is lost. "I don't know which is scarier," quips a Pentagon aide played by Frank Whaley, "that it happens, or that it happens so often we have a name for it."
Director John Woo is known for his stylish, ultra-violent Hong Kong action flicks, and he pulls out all the stops here, never letting logic get in his way. He never quite insults our intelligence, but he sure teases it a lot.
The classy cast includes Delroy Lindo ("Clockers") as an Air Force colonel in charge of the mission, and Jack Thompson ("Breaker Morant") as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Howie Long, the football star turned television commentator, is surprisingly competent as one of the heavies.
"Broken Arrow" has the potential to be an action classic, and it does borrow from good sources - "Die Hard," "Under Siege" and even "Raiders of the Lost Ark." But it never breaks the sturdy bonds of its genre.
The screenplay by Graham Yost ("Speed") is curiously inconsistent. There is a dry wit at work, particularly with Travolta's character, but also with Whaley's and some of the Pentagon supporting characters. But there is also frequent incredibly stilted dialogue, particularly between Slater and Mathis, who generate very little chemistry together.
What works much better is the duel between the Eagle Scout and the class troublemaker. Slater is pretty good as straight man to Travolta's smirking arrogance. Their fight is played out with the aid of some very audacious action scenes.
This is mostly Travolta's movie, as he creates a truly memorable bad guy. He has a lot of fun, and action fans will, too.