Woo? Wow!

John Woo's latest isn't his best, but he still leads the action pack

Here and elsewhere in Broken Arrow, John Travolta has a gleefully good time playing a flat-out, no-excuses villain. The sheer joy he takes in his character's egomaniacal wickedness is contagious. Christian Slater cannot help being overshadowed by such incandescent flamboyance. Even so, he manages to establish himself as a credible action hero. Samantha Mathis is more difficult to accept as a park ranger with an unexpected talent for martial arts. (Sorry, but she looks about ten years too young for the part.) On the other hand, she does come across as more substantial and self-sufficient than your standard-issue action-movie heroine. And there is something refreshingly clever about the way Woo refuses to allow her and Slater to interrupt their life-or-death struggle for a quick tryst, or even a brief kiss. But then again, this is in keeping with the spirit of Woo's Hong Kong movies, which, despite their violence, offer a chaste, even chivalric depiction of women. Old habits, like great movie villains, die hard.

Broken Arrow. Directed by John Woo. With John Travolta, Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis. Rated R. 104 minutes.

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