“blue thunder” and “backtrack” (aka Catchfire”)

I watched two movies back-to-back (unintentionally) that had helicopter chases.

The first was Blue Thunder, staring the greatest leading man of all time…Roy Scheider. It is also the greatest movie that Paul Verhoeven never made.

No disrespect to the highly competent John Badham, but Verhoeven would have crushed the shit out of this material. The film takes place in 1980s LA and is about a police pilot and Vietnam vet, played by Scheider, who gets introduced to a military-style helicopter that the city wants to use for patrol. The villain is Malcolm McDowell, a British man that somehow became a Lt. Colonel in the US Army, who for some contrived reason wants to kill Scheider. The fascistic overtones are right up Verhoeven’s alley, and even some of the story beats would be echoed in Robocop four years later.

But the movie looks incredible. John A. Alonzo is really an unsung hero in the field of cinematography. The handheld work is really ahead of its time, and masterfully done. After watching the first scene of Scheider walking out to his helicopter, I was shocked that this came out in 1983. It’s a natural look that even films today have trouble emulating.

And that final helicopter chase was incredible. All of the concerns that Scheider’s character had regarding public safety goes out the window once when he gets hunted by fighter jets and Malcolm McDowell. Chicken factories and buildings get blown up while debris falls on the people below. Meanwhile, Candy Clark drives like a bat out of hell down the streets of LA. As far as 80s action movies go, I’m not saying that it’s up there with the Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven, and John McTiernan classics, but it is very good. In fact, I would say it was a prototype for subsequent 80s flicks.

The other film was less of a banger but no less interesting (for various reasons). It was Dennis Hopper’s Backtrack (or Catchfire, idk). There are apparently two versions: theatrical cut and a directors cut. I guess I watched the director’s cut.

Hopper himself was apparently dissatisfied with the original version and had his “directed by” credit given to Alan Smithee. Honestly, he should have taken his name off the director’s cut as well.

What’s it about? Not sure.

I think Jodie Foster accidentally sees a mob hit by Joe Pesci and Pesci tries to track her down by hiring Hopper and Hopper falls in love with her (and she with him).

Now I’ll say this because I’ve said enough about dude’s bodies in this blog and it’s time women get their due: Jodie Foster is fiiiiiiiiiiiine as hell in this movie. You could say that I was “sexually attracted” to her. It made me uncomfortable (in my pants specifically). I could understand why Hopper didn’t want to kill her.

But the problem with this movie (one of many) is that Dennis Hopper is, I’m sorry to say, not fit for the role. Hopper is at least 25 years older than Foster. There’s nothing romantic about their scenes together. They’re downright creepy. It’s a role that someone like Nicholas Cage, Mickey Rourke, or Sean Penn could have aced at that time.

That being said, Hopper REALLY makes some decisions in this movie, both in front of and behind the camera. To be honest, I don’t even know what he’s trying to do. Is that accent New York or Cajun? Does he know his lines or is he just making shit up? Now no one on God’s green earth could have saved this screenplay, but Hopper’s visual flair and strange acting decisions steal the show…almost to the point where you forget that heavy hitters like Joe Pesci and Vincent Price are also in the movie.

RIP Dennis Hopper and Roy Scheider 😔

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