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The Fun of Falling

Because the early reviews of Terminal Velocity weren't particularly kind, and because I'm of the a-little-Charlie-Sheen-goes-a-long-way school of criticism, I entered my local multiplex recently intending to watch Sheen's newest with one eye closed, and the other opened just wide enough to register Nastassja Kinski. I hadn't seen her in so long that I wasn't sure I would recognize her. Then she appeared, looking fetching and extraordinarily like her late, lamented and mad-visaged father, Klaus. An interesting combination. But what was an intriguing Euro-person such as Kinski doing in a Charlie Sheen movie about thrill-seeking (which is to say, deeply stupid) skydivers, even if said movie was written by David Twohy, who did fine work on last summer's The Fugitive?

In Terminal Velocity's opening scenes, Twohy and director Deran Sarafian do their best to convince us that their movie will be yet another study in misguided testosterone. We first see Sheen's character, Ditch Brodie, performing a death- and law-defying para-stunt to deliver a male stripper-gram to a birthday party. But the birthday girl is only eight years old. Not a very funny joke, and Ditch's density promised more of the lame same.

Even after the introduction of Kinski's character, an interestingly ambiguous KGB operative out to either save or loot her humbled fatherland, the movie rises only to the level of ho-hum. Then, surprisingly, as the convoluted plot arrives at the point where most so-called thrillers founder

-- that is, the point where world peace depends on our hero's next move -- Terminal Velocity takes off and becomes an unusually pleasing action film.

And that's largely due to Sheen. He seamlessly segues from bonehead to boyish charmer, while Kinski maintains her "is-she-a-good-or-a-bad-Russian?" sense of mystery. Even more compelling than the leads' chemistry are the mostly airborne stunts. Of the three successful action films of recent months, Speed, True Lies and now Terminal Velocity, only the Sheen vehicle saves its best visual stunner for last. The film's final maneuver involves a falling car and a parachutist, and beyond that I won't say more. Rather, I'll only say that it's the most engaging and downright dazzling stunt of the year, and that Terminal Velocity is finally good fun.

-- David Theis

Terminal Velocity.
Directed by Deran Sarafian. With Nastassja Kinski, Charlie Sheen and James Gandolfini.

Rated PG-13.
102 minutes.

 
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