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No Bang, No Bing, No Boom

Blown Away isn't just about bombs. It is one.

I wish I could've seen the looks on the suits' faces at MGM, the studio behind Blown Away, when they first saw Speed. We were robbed, they must have said. They got our mad bomber, they got our bomb disposal team, they got our vehicle wired to explode if the driver slows down, they got our spectacular explosion followed by a taunting phone call from the bomber to the hero, they got our 15-minute opening action/suspense sequence that sets up the rest of the movie. They got us, period!

They sure did. In the debased parlance of my trade, at various points Blown Away plays as Speed in a jeep or Speed with an Irish brogue. But maybe the brains behind Blown Away consoled themselves by noting all the basic elements that Speed left out. Those schmucks, the suits might have thought, our Jeff Bridges has a dark secret that links him to the Tommy Lee Jones bomber. How could those Speed freaks have not had something like that? And, they might have added, the hero's girlfriend has to be threatened at a distance, like we have with Suzy Amis about to be dynamited while performing The 1812 Overture with the Boston Pops. (I'm not making this up.) Why, Speed has no Fourth of July hook whatsoever! And their girl is seated right beside Keanu Reeves at all times. He doesn't have to drive at top speed to rescue her while she innocently plays her violin, never suspecting that her life is about to end. The MGM suits could have gone on and on about how Speed just doesn't cover the basics. They could have thought they were going to be all right.

They would have been wrong, of course. Actually, given the way studio minds think alike, the Speed connection might not have bothered them at all. They might not care that Blown Away resembles any number of action movies, especially the less inspired ones. I saw the The Shadow just before going to see Blown Away, and felt a whiplash dejà vu at the second screening. Maybe if I'd seen Blown Away first it would have felt closer to being original. But I didn't, and it doesn't.

Even though The Shadow is a pulp fantasy and Blown Away is an "adult" adventure with pretensions toward psychological depth, both films have protagonists with dark secrets, men who become heroes attempting to atone for their sins of the past. They both feature a pulse-pounding scene in which a bomb's wires are clipped just in time. The heroes of both films, Alec Baldwin's Shadow and Jeff Bridges' bomb disposal expert, tell the women in their lives that, in effect, you don't know the real me. And both gals answer, natch, I don't know who you were, but I do know who you are now, and I love you I love you I love you. Unfortunately for the makers of Blown Away, such arch cliches have a kind of rightness in a darkly lit comic-book world, but they crumble like feta under the heat lamp of pseudo-realism.

Because Speed jettisoned action-film cliches and their by-the-numbers psychological "depth," it was able to take off and fly. And after a rocky opening, The Shadow at least heads in the right direction, mocking cliches almost as fast as it uses them. Blown Away has no such luck. Unless (as happened in In the Line of Fire) an action/adventure film actually realizes its supposed psychological depth, it can work only if it programs in a bit of fun and unpredictability. Blown Away writers John Rice, Joe Batteer and M. Jay Roach, along with director Stephen Hopkins, look to Tommy Lee Jones' bomber for their laughs. It sounds like a good idea, given the life that Jones has pumped into other stock roles. And he certainly shows off his acting chops here as a Belfast bomber (apparently not wanting to offend the Irish in the audience, the filmmakers identify Jones as a freelancer "too crazy for the IRA") who escapes from prison and resumes his old bad habits.

The filmmakers try to make their villain childlike, and therefore more diabolical in his destructiveness. This sort of demented playfulness might have worked in The Shadow, but in an allegedly realistic story it falls flat. As does the notion that this rabid Brit-hater is going to travel to Boston to plant his bombs after he escapes from prison. As does the even more cockamamie notion that Bridges' bomb expert has his own Belfast history, and that 22 years after the fact, the life of Jones' bomber centers on getting revenge on Bridges' character.

No Tommy Lee Jones movie can be completely without merit, and Blown Away is no exception. Jones has one chilling sequence, in which he makes a creepily childlike video using a hand puppet to explain his beef against Bridges. But poor Bridges is mostly notable here for running so hard that his cheeks pull back on his face. This unflattering close-up is repeated over and over. He should have taken a tip from Baldwin's Shadow: unless you're making an honest-to-God deep movie, the hero is much better off keeping his cool. Bridges' bellowing and strained racing is unseemly.

 
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