Starring Nicholas Cage, Sean Young and Tommy Lee Jones, Firebirds is one of those pro-American forces, gung-ho, flag-waving, bullshit movies that feels like it was sponsored on military payroll. What other type of movie opens with a quote from then President George Bush Snr about the war on drugs without any irony and with total sincerity? Bullshit propaganda about cowboy military pilots that rips off Top Gun but trades in the jets for gunship helicopters. The action is well-shot, but the film spends too much time trying to establish character during close-ups in the cockpit rather than on the aerial dogfights audiences came to see, which in their representation arouse absolutely no suspense or even boys-and-their-toys coolness. Like Days of Thunder and other bullshit movies from the 1990s, Firebirds does not contain much substance, only scenes required in the Top Gun regulation hand-book (love interest – check! father figure commander – check!). To illustrate how lame it is, Cage’s Goose, the guy whose death he must avenge happens in the first five minutes before we even get to know the guy (or remember his name for that matter). All the way through, I kept thinking maybe Tommy Lee Jones might be the next Goose, as he gets scenes with his wife and a surprise birthday party, which usually spells certain death in a war film. However, the movie is so lame and pro-army, that Tommy Lee Jones is still alive at the end after a near-fatal injury, still cracking jokes with his legs broken into bits. Even funnier is the bad guy, who supposedly works for the South American drug cartels (a reliable enemy in the post-cold-war context of the film), but looks Russian and is discussed by military superiors with 'menacing' photos that look straight from a promotional agency with their staged, head-shot aesthetic (example, one photo of the villain’s eyes only, looking sinister).
"I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I AM THE GREATEST!"
With all this showboating and over-the-top acting, you expect the no-nonsense Jones to eventually kick Cage’s ass into some fucking humility and respect, but no, except for a brief stumble over his eyesight, Cage remains a cocky asshole from start to finish. On the other hand, you have Tommy Lee Jones. He’s awesomely over-the-top in comparison. I mean he gets handed a role like an over-the-hill gunship commander and plays it right to the fucking tee. The greatest bullshit scene occurs near the climax where the squad has moved from their base in Arizona to South America (which looks remarkably the same in the film). On the morning before battle, Cage wakes up, sees Jones standing in a field and walks over for some male-bonding. They start telling each other how good they are, Cage calling Jones "the best", Jones calling him "better" – you know, usual military ego-stroking. Anyway, Jones starts chewing into a monologue that I still cannot believe he delivered with a straight-face:
"You know, I joined the army for the same reason you did. That’s to kick
ass. Just like in the old war movies. You know, to be a hero [pause] That’s what
I’m looking for in you [pause] First class all-American hero with his heart and brain wired together, cooking full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice… okay?"
Then bombs blow up behind them and the action kicks in, but I was too busy laughing my fucking ass off. “… FULL TILT BOOGIE…???” And the way Jones delivers that classic line in his trademark Southern monotone drawl makes it sound like this, "First-class-all-American-hero-with-his-heart-and-brain-wired-together-cooking-FULL-TILT-BOOGIEfor-freedom-and-justice." In the end, such All-American G.I. Joe Asshole antics enliven an otherwise generic pro-military Top Gun knock-off.