Fast, funny flight risk

Multiple roles for versatile vancouver

Published: Jan 03 2014, 01:01:am

Friday, May 18, 1990
BIRD ON A WIRE. Written by David Seltzer, Louis Venosta and Eric Lerner. Music by Hans Zimmer. Directed by John Badham. Running time: 110 minutes. Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: some violence, occasional suggestive scenes and coarse language.
VANCOUVER SHOULD BE grateful for John Badham. A talented and successful Hollywood director, he's shot his last two features here.
    Stakeout, filmed and released in 1987, paired Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez. A box office hit, it was a terrific advertisement for B.C. locations and film-industry services.
    Bird on a Wire, opening today, stars Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn. Considered a summer "biggie" by entertainment business analysts, it's the kind of high-gloss, action-filled romantic comedy that can do nothing but good for the local industry's image.
    Whether Badham should be grateful for Vancouver is another matter.
    Though certainly effective as entertainment, the two movies have less substance than his previous three pictures, Blue Thunder, War Games (both 1983), and Short Circuit (1986).
    During his pre-Vancouver techno-thriller period, Badham produced a cycle of films that combined action, suspense and even comedy with a strong moral sense.
    Issues of state security, individual responsibility and the nature of existence underpinned their plots without slowing the pace or diluting the sense of adventure.
    Stakeout, while a slick cop-buddy tale, lacked that additional level of meaning. A crisp lady-in-distress story, it succeeded because Detectives Lecce (Dreyfuss) and Reimers (Estevez) were so much fun to be with.
    Vancouver stood in for Seattle, which allowed British Columbians to play spot-the-location. Even so, I missed the sense of ethical purpose that I've come to think of as the Badham touch.
    Bird on a Wire offers a laugh-laced tale of lovers on the run. Like Stakeout, it opens with a really bad guy getting out of jail.
    After 15 years, cop killer Eugene Sorenson (David Carradine) makes parole. His first order of business on the outside is to get the hyperactive little hippy who testified against him.
    Easier said than done. Since turning state's evidence, penny-ante pot dealer Rick Jarmin (Gibson) has been a ward of the Federal Witness Protection Program.
    Fortunately for Sorenson, there's a bent F.B.I. agent who owes him a favour. Joe Weyburn (Stephen Tobolowsky) directs him to Marvin's Motown Motors, a corner garage in Detroit.
    Fortunately for Jarmin, it turns out to be a multiple reunion. By pure happenstance, his ex-girlfriend is in town.
    Now a successful corporate lawyer — "Isn't it nice that one of us became a materialist pig?" — Marianne Groves (Hawn) recognizes the beau she thought dead just in time to save him from a real death.
    On the run with a selection of mob and government assassins in hot pursuit, the old lovers become reacquainted. Hawn, playing flower-child-turned-professional woman, has the reaction role.
    Since their escape route takes them through some of Jarmin's past "lives," we see her react to the news that he once hung out as a Racine, Wisconsin, ladies' hairdresser. That, she finds funny.
    She's less amused by their visit to his ranchhand past, during which he built animal treatment facilities for beautiful, self-reliant veterinarian Rachel Varney (Joan Severance).
    Watch the two women eye one another warily as Dr. Varney tenderly removes buckshot from Rick's hirsute hindquarters.
        Unfailingly professional, director Badham has turned out another star-powered star watcher's movie. Watch stud muffin Mel watch Goldie's next-to-naked backside as they climb the side of a building.
    Watch wide-eyed Goldie watch Mel shower. Watch how Badham sets up one chase scene after another for his watchable stars.
    And, while we're at it, watch how well he makes Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster double for U.S. Northeastern and Midwestern settings such as New York, Atlantic City, Washington, Detroit, Racine and St. Louis, creating for Bird on a Wire an attractive slick surface with no discernible depth.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1990. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Since his 1976 debut on Australian television, Mel Gibson has enjoyed an acting career that's taken him around the world. Bird on a Wire would be his single stop in Vancouver, a city that director John Badham has come to know well. He returned to make two more features, Another Stakeout (1987) and Brother's Keeper (2002), as well as two TV movies,  Floating Away (1998) and Evel Knievel (2004). More recently he's touched down to direct episodes of such locally filmed series as Men in Trees, Psych and Supernatural. Best remembered locally, though, is Goldie Hawn, who would make Vancouver her home for three years. Together with her partner Kurt Russell, she lived in a Tudor mansion in Shaughnessy, a house they bought in 2002 so that their 15-year-old son Wyatt could attend high school and pursue his passion for hockey. The family remained in Vancouver until 2005, during which time Wyatt honed his goal-tending skills with the Junior B Richmond Sockeyes, the Langley Hornets and the Coquitlam Express. His father also strapped on the skates to take the starring role in Miracle (2004), the filmed-in-Vancouver Disney feature that celebrated the U.S. national hockey team's victory over the Russians at the 1980 Olympic Games.