I seem to remember, back in the summer of 1983, I liked this film a whole lot more than I did last Saturday night. In hindsight, the reason seems pretty clear and it’s just two words: nude yoga. The film’s famous peeping tom scene was more than enough to recommend the film to a gang of recent high school grads and aspiring frat rats.
However, twenty-three years hence I tend to demand a lot more from movies, even brainless action flicks. Things like plot logic and characters with more dimension than tissue paper actually matter to me.
Blue Thunder opens with a crawl that informs the audience that all of the technology shown in the film actually exists. I guess that in 1983, we needed reassurance the titular helicopter wasn’t just science-fiction. Now, the instinctive reaction is something like, “No shit, Sherlock…” The Blue Thunder helicopter portrayed in the film was not really that futuristic, since the very similar Army’s AH-64 Apache was already in development by this time. Only the movie chopper’s “whisper mode” was really science-fiction, since there’s really no way to quiet down a helicopter without slowing the tips so they no longer exceed the speed of sound. That’s hard to do without the aircraft falling from the sky.
The film takes place in a Los Angeles torn by crime and preparing for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The top secret Blue Thunder helicopter is being loaned to the LAPD by the military for possible crowd control use. The pilots assigned to check out the new toy is Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), a stock troubled Vietnam vet with crippling flashbacks, and Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern), a wet-behind-the-ears rookie straight from central casting. The work under Captain Braddock (Warren Oates) who dutifully hits all the notes a police captain in the movies is supposed to. He’s crusty, he yells a lot but he’s really a good guy. The chief test pilot from the Army is Col. Cochrane, who predictably has an acrimonious past relationship with Murphy. We know he’s the Bad Guy because he’s played by Malcolm McDowell.
There’s an ill-defined conspiracy involving the murder of a city councilwoman and a plot to foment trouble in the barrio for some “live-fire” testing of Blue Thunder. It doesn’t really matter because it’s all an excuse for Murphy to steal the helicopter and spend the last half of the movie shooting up half of the L.A. basin trying to expose the bad guys. The action scenes are exciting and well-staged as Murphy dodges his own people and Air Force jets before an inevitable confrontation with Col. Cochrane.
Director John Badham lucked out with the casting, since actors like Scheider, Oates and McDowell can deliver the script’s hokey dialogue with the kind of laconic off-handedness needed to sell the lines with a straight face.
This movie is fun in a brainlessly good natured way, full of action, a good helping of humor and, yes, nude yoga.