Air America 1990 Movie Scene Mel Gibson as Gene walking away from a burning wreck of an airplane with David Marshall Grant as Rob Diehl

Air America [1990]

I must’ve started writing this sentence at least a dozen times. And each time it felt somehow not good enough to describe what was going on with this movie. Well, not the movie itself, but everything surrounding it. If I told you that an action comedy from the nineties starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. had only 60 user reviews on IMDb, you probably wouldn’t believe me. And what if I told you that it had only 30 critic reviews? What if I told you that the director is none other than Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) and that the story is based on actual events? Well, the answer to all of these questions hides in that last little bit of information.

Air America is a hugely underrated action comedy featuring an excellent story, great stunts, and an even better cast. It follows a young pilot who’s recruited by the CIA to fly covert missions in Laos during the Vietnam War. The movie is actually based on a non-fiction book of the same name written by Christopher Robbins. It details how the CIA smuggled drugs, weapons and financed a dirty war by cooperating with a ruthless warlord. A guy who was also a drug dealer. I think that now you know why Air America is not that popular. Now, I’m not a conspiracy theorist but the facts speak for themselves.

You can look all of this up and see for yourself that the facts I’m talking about are indeed true. I mean, just a couple of years ago, another very similar movie came out detailing the CIA’s involvement in, you guessed it, drug and gun smuggling in Latin America. To make things even weirder, the title of that movie, American Made, is quite similar to the one we’re talking about today, Air America. It also follows a young pilot who’s recruited by the CIA to first run reconnaissance missions and then… Starring Tom Cruise, it’s a nifty little movie you should check out.

Funny, vibrant, and quite casual, Air America is an entertaining rendition of all these events. It is an anti-war movie but it’s also a fun movie with a lot of great aerial footage. Remember that this is a time when CGI was almost nonexistent in big movies. So, when you see a huge plane going down and exploding, that’s a huge plane going down and exploding. And if you see Robert Downey Jr. hanging from a helicopter, tied by a rope, that’s really him. The crazy motherfucker actually did that stunt. I kept thinking about how I would spray all those below me with a constant flow from all of my orifices if I tried to do that.

It is the year of our lord Satan 1969 and helicopter pilot Billy Covington just had his license pulled after he pulled quite a dangerous stunt with his helicopter on the freeway. Mere hours later, he’s contacted by a shady individual who offers him an exciting and high-paying job in Laos. All Billy wants to do is fly so he agrees and ends up in a country bordering Vietnam. The same Vietnam that’s in a middle of a brutal war. In Laos, however, there’s no war. At least that’s what the CIA wants everyone to think. Actually, there’s no base, no American involvement, no planes, and no missions. Only a bunch of crazy pilots flying crazy missions and trying to see the light of the next day.

After the opening scene featuring a huge airplane flying over the lush jungles of Laos, the next scene takes us to L.A. where we see a helicopter flying dangerously close to other vehicles. Recently Rabbit Reviews recommended you Blue Thunder, another cool helicopter movie featuring crazy stunts. However, these ones are on the next fucking level. Air America keeps this aloof style of storytelling throughout, dampening the craziness of events it is portraying. Now, I didn’t necessarily like this or the caricature characters but what can you do? I do see why they wanted to do this. 

However, we will meet a lot of them and all of them together will create an engaging and quite easy-to-follow narrative. All of this will be happening in a stunningly beautiful environment. Air America was shot in Thailand showcasing its gorgeous landscapes, temples, and all the other exotic things. Among them are the poppy fields, essential in the manufacture of opium, a drug of choice in this region. We’ll see small airstrips only 100 meters or 330 feet long, used by the crew of Air America. I never knew that an airplane can land on such a small airstrip until I saw this movie.

Finally, this movie has a bitchin’ soundtrack comprised of the best hits of that era. It really helps with the atmosphere and puts you in a good and vibrant mood. At the time of its release, this was only the second movie featuring the war in Vietnam that had comedic elements. The first one was Good Morning, Vietnam starring Robin Williams.

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Writers: Christopher Robbins, John Eskow, Richard Rush

Cast: Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr., Ken Jenkins, Lane Smith, Nancy Travis, David Marshall Grant

Fun Facts: The airplanes you see in the movie were rented from the Thailand military and they were flown by experienced pilots who were around sixty years old.


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