Air America (film)

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Air America
Air America (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Spottiswoode
Produced byMario Kassar
Andrew G. Vajna
Written byChristopher Robbins
John Eskow
Richard Rush
StarringMel Gibson
Robert Downey Jr.
Nancy Travis
David Marshall Grant
Michael Dudikoff
Lane Smith
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byJohn Bloom
Lois Freeman-Fox
Production
company
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • August 10, 1990 (1990-08-10)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$35,000,000
Box office$31,053,601 (USA)
 
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Air America
Air America (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Spottiswoode
Produced byMario Kassar
Andrew G. Vajna
Written byChristopher Robbins
John Eskow
Richard Rush
StarringMel Gibson
Robert Downey Jr.
Nancy Travis
David Marshall Grant
Michael Dudikoff
Lane Smith
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byJohn Bloom
Lois Freeman-Fox
Production
company
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • August 10, 1990 (1990-08-10)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$35,000,000
Box office$31,053,601 (USA)

Air America is a 1990 American action comedy film directed by Roger Spottiswoode, starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. as Air America pilots, during the Vietnam War, flying missions in Laos. When the protagonists discover their planes are being used by other government agents to smuggle heroin, they must avoid being made patsies in a frame-up.

The plot is adapted from Christopher Robbins' 1979 non-fiction book, chronicling the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency financed airline during the Vietnam War to transport weapons and supplies within Laos and other areas of Indochina subsequent to the North Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The publicity for the film—advertised as a light-hearted buddy movie—implied a tone that differs greatly with the actual film's tone, which includes such serious themes as an anti-war message, focus on the opium trade, and a negative portrayal of Royal Laotian General Vang Pao (played by actor Burt Kwouk as "General Lu Soong").

Plot[edit]

Billy Covington (Downey) works as a helicopter traffic pilot for a Los Angeles radio station, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration suspends his pilot's license after breaking several safety regulations on the job.

Billy, unemployed and unable to find work, takes the job and flies to Laos. He gets

Senator Davenport (Lane Smith) arrives in Laos on a "fact finding mission" to determine if Washington, D.C. rumors are true about Air America's drug smuggling business. Major Lemond and Rob Diehl, CIA leaders of Air America, have a cover-up in place. Senator Davenport is shown around refugee camps, shrines and temples, and major cities in a careful deception to keep him out of the loop. As Communist forces move in, Gene and another pilot arrive. Billy's crew evacuates in the other plane while he boards Gene's helicopter.

In the ensuing escape, Billy and Gene's helicopter takes fire and crashes, stranding them in the jungles of Laos, where they are ultimately captured by a rural tribe.

Meanwhile, Senator Davenport is becoming upset when he is not being shown the operations of Air America, and he demands to know who is smuggling heroin. Soon after returning to Air America the pilots are informed that Jack was killed during his search for Billy and Gene, and Gene is offended when he later learns that the Senator has been led to believe that Jack is the culprit behind the drug trafficking. In retaliation for this misinformation, and for Soong's earlier betrayal, Billy purchases grenades on the black market and uses them to blow up the heroin factory. Unfortunately, the guards see him running away, and General Soong and Major Lemond use him as their fall guy.

The next day, Gene finds a buyer for his arsenal, allowing him to leave gunrunning, quit Air America, and take his family out of the country. Meanwhile, Billy accepts one more flight before he actually quits; he and co-pilot Babo are assigned to transport flour to a refugee camp. When Babo and Billy are instructed to land at an airstrip for "routine inspection", Babo reveals that such a sudden inspection is actually a non-routine situation.

Gene, who is on his way to make his final, and largest, weapons delivery, makes a detour to rescue Babo and Billy. Despite Gene's desire to make his delivery so he can be free of Air America, Billy convinces him to respond to a distress call from the refugee camp. However, closing titles reveal that Diehl and Lemond were indeed exposed, and would later go on to lead checkered careers in Washington politics.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Director Richard Rush tried to develop the film in 1985, as the first comedy about Vietnam. Carolco Pictures bought the project as Rush wrote a script and found locations. Sean Connery was attached to play the older pilot, Gene Ryack, and the younger flier Billy Covington was at different times to be played by Bill Murray,[1] James Belushi and Kevin Costner. The project was sold to producer Daniel Melnick after Connery and Costner became too expensive. Melnick hired screenwriter John Eskow to write a new script; and first hired director Bob Rafelson to work with Rush, but eventually hiring director Roger Spottiswoode. Mel Gibson was cast for a reported $7 million, for the role of Ryack, and Robert Downey, Jr. held the role of Covington. Nancy Travis was cast as Corinne Landroaux (replacing Ally Sheedy), and Michael Dudikoff was cast as General Lee.

Filming[edit]

The budget of Air America increased to $35 million as the production involved a 500-member crew shooting in 49 different locations between Thailand, London, and Los Angeles; operating between eight and 15 cameras at a time. The production was plagued by two earthquakes and a typhoon. The producers rented 26 planes from the Thai military, and some of the stunt flyers refused to perform some of the tasks, with 60-year-old veterans being drafted for the more demanding turns. PepsiCo wanted the filmmakers to use a fictional soda rather than show opium being refined at their abandoned factory. Therefore, the producers added a line about wondering if Pepsi knew what was going on.

Soundtrack[edit]

Air America (soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by Various artists
Released1990
Recorded1990
GenreRock music
Length33:45
LabelMCA Records
ProducerBecky Mancuso, Tim Sexton, Magstripe Entertainment
Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic2/5 stars [2]
No.TitleWriter(s)Performed byLength
1."Love Me Two Times"  John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Jim MorrisonAerosmith3:22
2."Right Place, Wrong Time"  Mac RebennackB.B. King and Bonnie Raitt3:37
3."Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"  Roger Cook, Allan Clarke, Roger GreenawayCharlie Sexton4:15
4."Do It Again"  Donald Fagen, Walter BeckerSteely Dan5:01
5."Free Ride"  Dan HartmanEdgar Winter and Rick Derringer3:23
6."California Dreamin'"  John Phillips, Michelle GilliamThe Mamas & the Papas2:38
7."Baby, I Need Your Lovin'"  Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Edward Holland, Jr.Four Tops2:44
8."Get Ready"  William "Smokey" RobinsonThe Temptations2:38
9."Rescue Me"  Fontella Bass, Raynard Miner, Carl William SmithFontella Bass2:53
10."Pushin' Too Hard"  Sky SaxonThe Seeds2:35

Reception[edit]

Air America received mostly negative reviews from critics.As of December 24, 2014 it currently has a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews, with an average score of 3.4/10.

Box office[edit]

The film debuted at Number three behind Flatliners and Young Guns II [3][4] It was a Moderate Box office downturn, And was only grossing $31 million against a $35 million budget.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ May 17, 1987 (1987-05-17). "Ghostly Movie - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2014-12-08. 
  2. ^ Air America (film) at AllMusic
  3. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (1990-08-13). "The Two Jakes Fails to Do Land-Office Business". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  4. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (1990-08-14). "Flatliners Leads Lively Box Office : Movies: Young audience helps medical drama and Gibson's 'Air America' shoot down Nicholson's 'Two Jakes.'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]