Slipstream (Review)


Screenplay by Tony Kayden
Story by Bill Bauer
Directed by Steven Lisberger

Ever wonder what would happen if Mad Max was set in a world of airplanes instead of junk cars? As directed by the director of Tron? Well, you obviously have some sort of mental illness and should talk to a professional therapist, I’m just a guy who watches bad movies. Odd as it may be, your bizarre craving has been provided, and stars Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton to boot! Bob Peck from Jurassic Park appears as the Data-ish character, While Mark Hamill is a feared bounty hunter/cop named Tasker. Bill Paxton plays Bill Paxton, here named Matt Owens. Paxton has fought Aliens, Predators, tornadoes, and Terminators, but here he has his greatest challenge: acting with giant hair. My Lord that’s a big mullet. Giganto-mullet. It must be aerodynamic, helps with the airplane flying or something. Maybe he uses it as a hang glider or parachute in case of air trouble. Big hair, bad movie, actors from both Star Wars and Star Trek (hello F. Murray Abraham!) and Harry Potter (Robbie Coltrane!) make this a genre melting extravaganza. Oh, almost forgot–they filmed in Turkey! Our friend Turkey, well known at TarsTarkas.NET from their numerous additions to crazy film libraries, provides background sites and extras. Set up your prop plane to go for a ride on the Slipstream…

It’s the future! The world has been so environmentally messed up that at the turn of the century the whole thing started destroying itself, earthquakes split continents and floods were everywhere, then a river of wind wiped the whole thing clean. This river of wind is called the Slipstream. It is not to be confused with Starscream, the traitorous lieutenant of Megatron from the Transformers. Starscream guest stars on Beast Wars, but Slipstream will never guest star on anything, even Beast Machines. The lines about “split continents” is so they can use location shots from all over the world without bothering to explain how they are so close together. As well as the foreign extras, noticeably from Turkey. Heck, the whole “Slipstream” concept is so weak we probably didn’t even need it in the movie. They talk about “riding the slipstream” to save on gas, but fail to explain how they are doing it both ways. I think someone’s favorite part of Mad Max: Roadwarrior was the gyro captain, and wanted a movie full of them. With Mark Hamill. Not a bad goal in life. Director Steven Lisberger (who made the brilliant Tron and not much else of consequence) has his world set up, but seemed to run out of money halfway through, as we’ll soon see.

Weird aircraft fly in the air, oddly shaped because they are different designs of light aircraft, for one or two people, and made to be as portable and light as possible. The craft we focus on is chasing a suited man on the rocky terrain below, including a shot that looks remarkably like a shot from North by Northwest. If you are going to steal, steal from the best. That’s the motto of Slipstream, though it concludes”yet still put together a mess!” The suited man is harpooned in the arm by Mark Hamill. Harpooned meaning Hamill is armed with a grappling hook/harpoon looking weapon that I’ll just be calling a harpoon. Mark Hamill is a cop named Will Tasker, who still looks like Mark Hamill despite being bleach blonde with a full beard. We’ll just call him Mark Hamill, because he’s typecast anyway. After all, you can only make so many “Does she have any job duties? Well, let’s Task Her!” jokes. Mark Hamill is partnered with a no nonsense female partner Belitski. Belitski? Did Dr. Seuss name her? Together they take the suited man played by Bob Peck back to the local settlement, what looks like a trailer park and a local diner.

At the local diner, which looks amazingly like the local Denny’s I frequent, they serve rabbit and squirrel to the locals (which makes it sound even more like the local Denny’s…) Local mulleted flyer Matt Owens shows up, you may know him as Bill Paxton. You may also know his hair as the collected hair of big hair metal bands Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Ratt, Poison, KISS, and Billy and the Boingers (aka Deathtounge). We’ll just call Bill Paxton Bill Paxton because that’s the range of his acting ability. Bill Paxton’s big hair and tendency to act like Bill Paxton makes the locals instantly grow not too fond of him. Especially the women, who he manages to make enemies of in world record speed, from waitress Abigale to Mark Hamill’s partner Belitski. Finally, he starts making enemies of the men, beginning with Mark Hamill. Bill Paxton tries to sell him some military weapons, which is a mistake, because you remember Mark Hamill is a cop. Maybe not a Jedi cop, but still a cop. Mark Hamill flashes his badge, and takes a grenade from Bill Paxton. Later, Bill Paxton manages to talk to some people who don’t find him instantly annoying, who tell him about the suited man Mark Hamill has captive, and his huge bounty waiting at some settlement. This gives Bill Paxton an idea: onion-flavored yogurt. I didn’t say it was a good idea, now did I? Plus I just made that up, Bill Paxton’s idea is to steal the suited man, which you’ve already figured out and have grown impatient with my deceit. So he puts Mark Hamill to gunpoint, as well as Belitski, who seems to go nutso when guns are drawn, as she’s laughing crazy like she’s listening to Showtime at the Apollo. She does manage to distract Bill Paxton enough he gets shot with a dart by Mark Hamill. Not a tranquilizer dart or anything sensible, this is a poison dart. A slow acting poison dart. So slow acting we forget he’s poisoned for most of the movie. It’s also some sort of radioactive that allows him to be tracked. Mark Hamill offers the cure in exchange for Bill Paxton leaving, but Bill doesn’t take that deal. I think he’s been threatened with poison if he didn’t leave before. It’s all for naught, as Mark Hamill gets hit by a second plane at this point. I see the NTSB is just as terrible in the future! In the confusion, Bill runs off with the suited man while Mark Hamill and his partner run after the second plane (on the grassy knoll.)

As Bill Paxton flies off, we get exciting hero music. This tell us that Bill Paxton is supposed to be the hero. This is disappointing (to say the least) because: A.–Bill Paxton is the hero? He’s done nothing heroic, and in fact has stolen from legitimate police officers. B.–Mark Hamill seems more heroic, but he’s a jerk, yet still a tad more likable than Bill Paxton at this point. C.–Bill Paxton? Hero? Game over, man, game over. I suppose we should be rooting for Bill Paxton, but we have no incentive at this point, except some overly-dramatic music. Sorry, I demand more. To make the music worse, Bill Paxton puts on some even worse rock from an on-board CD, and begins chatting with his new prisoner friend. Do to some bad dialogue, Bill Paxton comes out of a conversation thinking his passenger is named Byron (as in Lord Byron, who he was quoting.) Byron quotes from Revelations, and admits he deserves to be punished for the man he killed. Bill Paxton flies over a bunch of junk, before heading over a mudhut city. They get to landing.

This junk city turns out to be where Bill Paxton is from, called Hell’s Kitchen, but not the New York one. Paxton instantly begins conversing with people in the first tent he enters, which has most of the tent taken up by a giant hot tub. Of course those people are laughing at him. By now Byron has removed his handcuffs, but claims he can be trusted. Normally that would be laughable, but this guy is odd. And not just because he’s British. Byron likes to wander off and heal people, especially when Bill Paxton is bragging about getting a reward for him. Byron heals a boy with cataracts, which I am guessing kids get now thanks to the cool new environment of wind and stuff.

Mark Hamill and Belitski are chasing after, on foot of all things. At least this part is on foot, for some reason. They run into a group of smugglers on the ground, lead by Robbie Coltrane! Hagrid! Poor Hagrid, having to turn to a life of crime after the apocalypse destroyed Hogwarts. At least Hagrid is killed by a worthy foe, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, who guns down Hagrid and his group of illegal illegal-doers. They are illegally dead now, and are buried under a pile of rocks. They destroy their contraband and the girl complains about her job as they fly away. Mark Hamill responds: “If it weren’t for the few of us left, the slime would pile so high you couldn’t breathe!” showing the movie has at least a few good cheesy lines in it. Actually, Mark Hamill’s character is pretty good, you get the sense he once believed in things, but is now burnt out and jaded. Hamill continues his diatribe: “Every time a piece of human trash is put under a rock pile, the world’s a better place.”

And now for the scene. Yes, the scene. The scene that made me realize that I saw this film before I watched it recently, years and years ago. Bill Paxton is flying around in his little plane with Byron, where he passes by a cave where a hot girl is stretching herself. So he does what all men would do when in the post-apocalyptic future where everyone flies light planes: he circles around and takes another peek. She notices him then and stops the show, but he got his look on. I remember this scene, which was jarred back into my mind once I saw it again. A long time ago, I watched this film, only to suppress all memory of it. Amazingly enough, the one scene that involves a naked girl is the scene that I remember above all others, which is not surprising considering I was probably 12 when i did see it. The important thing is that Bill Paxton has found the Cave of the Lost Solid Gold Dancers!

After the hot woman in the cave scene is a scene that I probably blocked out of my mind on purpose: Bill Paxton tells Byron about his dream, to own a hot air balloon factory. Dream big, buddy! They spend the night on the ground, with Byron sleeping with his eyes open, for those of you who haven’t figured out he’s an android yet. Before that, Byron tells Paxton he’s no killer, but he won’t be trying anything anyway. Paxton awakes to a scary sight in the morning, Byron hovering over him, checking for arrhythmia! I guess it’s poison related or something, but it’s too early to tell, according to Byron. We jump to more flying! Except the score has kicked it up a few volume points and is now blasting out full volume. You can feel the excitement. Bill Paxton has gone and got them lost, probably distracted by the loud music during the flying montage. He decides to ask for directions from a nearby settlement, which belongs to one of the new cults that worship the wind. Well, it’s the post-apocalyptic future, and our hero is going into an unknown city full of crazy cultists, so this will turn out completely without incident, I am sure! By the way, these cultists live in the Turkish Cappadocia cave dwellings, which is instantly recognizable, especially for Z-movie fans, as they feature prominently in many low-budget Turkish films such as Turkish Superman and other non-Turkish turkeys such as Yor, the Hunter from the Future.

It seems the wind cultists were attacked by raiders, yet they didn’t fight back because they are nonviolent. They also fear all technology, so you can imagine how much they will love the android Byron once they figure that out. First, Byron and Paxton help some of the injured people, where they run into a new character who will be joining them later, named Ariel. Not the little mermaid, though that would have made this movie better… Ariel tells Byron “you have a very old soul.” Ha! That Bryon, how wacky. Bryon responds with “Old King Cole had a merry old soul.” Byron gets into a long discussion with a dying old man, who is Ariel’s father I believe. He’s also played by Ben Kingsley and is called Avatar. Proof that Sir Ben was making terrible movies long before getting involved with Uwe Boll. That, and Suspect Zero, Thunderbirds, and A Sound of Thunder. Back in the movie, the discussion carries on and involves a lot of philosophy and talk of the nature of man. But Avatar dies and the next day Paxton wakes up hogtied while Byron is tied to a large kite, which is sailing high in the air in the high wind (I’m guessing the Slipstream), yet tethered to the ground. At least they’ve shown that Charlie Brown is not the mastermind of the cult. Mark Hamill and Belitski catch up to Bill Paxton at this point, letting him loose so he can help them get Byron down. They make a deal to work together, and Paxton will get the antidote to the poison Paxton got earlier. Although unarmed, Paxton brags “You can’t take away what makes me dangerous!” I guess he’s talking about his hair (though scissors would solve that problem, and stabbed right they could rid us of Paxton forever!) Hamill reveals that Byron is an android, thus surprising Paxton but no one in the audience who was paying even the slightest attention.

Paxton slides up the kite rope with a parachute to fly him upward. Paxton tries to hurry and cut the kite free, but Belitski is sliding up as well. He stops cutting as she makes it up, but then the rope snaps where it was weak and the kite flies off, smashing Mark Hamill in the process. After the crash, Byron locates Paxton and Belitski, and as he goes to try to help Hamill, Belitski curses Paxton as he repeats his Balloon Factory dream to her. Byron only manages to find a harpoon of Hamill, nothing else. Byron does manage to find the girl who’s father died and was also helping the cult, as she’s fallen out of favor with them as well. Belitski stays behind searching for Hamill as Paxton, the new girl Ariel, and Byron fly off. There is only two seats in the plane, so Byron is tied on top! Shame, as Paxton would have made a great hood ornament. The plane was stripped of parts while parked near the cult, and after a patch job, it makes it close to a new settlement before crashing on the outskirts. We almost got to see the crash, but they just made noise, and suddenly next scene the plane was crashed in the dirt and the characters were climbing out of it. This settlement just happens to be where Ariel is from, and she leads to them an underground museum.

At this point the movie shifts gears faster than a NASCAR racer on speed, as we slam right into what seems like a set that’s a refugee from a Terry Gilliam movie. Gone is all the airplanes, the Mad Max life, the airplanes, the moving from town to town finding new misadventures, and the airplanes; as we’re quickly brought into an old museum, with well stocked libraries, nature displays, and lots of very British people. Ariel shows off the whole area to Byron, as it’s her home, (I guess she was just visiting the cult?) and they have a discussion on the nature of man. Paxton follows, making smart remarks and staring at the breasts of Greek statues until he finds a book of hot air balloons. Byron reveals he is well read because he read to his master every night. The museum has a large party that night, where Paxton meets up with a blonde girl who has grown bored sleeping with random British guys. She must be really really really bored with British guys to have put up with Bill Paxton. Ariel talks to Byron more at the party, telling how she thought life was a lie until she met him, he was the first real thing she saw. Byron is also shown to be a great dancer, Fred Astair 2.0. Paxton counters: “If dancing isn’t dirty, it isn’t being done right!” Wooooooo! Yeah. Whatever. Byron shows off his abilities to make animal noises, as he and Ariel get ready to get it on, android style! Next morning, Bill Paxton wakes up alone except for a flower, so boring British guys must not be so bad after all. Byron fixes the museum’s air conditioning as the Museum Council discusses their visitors.

Head Museum Guy is played by F. Murray Abraham, who objects to their presence, not because of Bill Paxton, but because Ariel didn’t tell them they could never leave, so they were brought under false pretenses. Therefore, they must be killed. Wait….huh? In the basement, Byron tells Paxton he finally had a dream, about androids living in a city in the mountains. I should note that at this time Bill Paxton is wearing a gray t-shirt with a black suit coat, which was in style in the mid-80’s and right now as a retro thing, but was in no way in fashion in 1989, fashion had evolved to Hammer Pants, IIRC. Paxton tells Byron that he’s free, he’s not going to turn him in for the bounty. Paxton is going to leave, but Byron wants to stay, as he and Ariel are in love. This happiness can’t be long-lived, it’s time for disaster to strike. Yes, Mark Hamill is back in the movie!

Hamill and Belitski shoot their way into the museum. They demand Byron or everyone dies. Byron is given up, as Belitski and Paxton talk. She shoots him with another dart, this one having the antidote. Anyway, he knocks her out and ties her up, and tries to rescue Byron. He fires at Hamill, but Byron blocks the shot. A firefight erupts and in the midst of it Ariel is shot by Mark Hamill. This ticks off Byron, who was trying to avoid conflict. Hamill runs to get a bigger gun from his plane, as Byron walks toward him slowly. He fires a shot or two, but it fails to slow Byron. Hamill starts his plane, and starts to drive it toward Byron. It snags him, but Byron starts tearing through the engine. He fights inside and they have a fistfight inside the cockpit, the plane having become airborn at some point. The fighting destroys the controls, and the plane begins to dive for a crash. Hamill stops fighting as Byron grabs some wires to fix the situation. The plane begins pulling out of the dive, then suddenly crashes into the side of a cliff. Yep, Byron did that on purpose. Hamill is really dead this time, and Byron has gotten his suit ruined. Looks like Luke could survive Vader, but not an angry British android.

A bittersweet ending, as Byron leaves to look for his android city dream, while Paxton leaves with Belitski to start his balloon factory dream. For the credits, we get a montage of fancifully designed balloons.

It’s a shame the director of Tron ended up making this mess. It has the feel of a film that had constant funding problems, and was probably being rewritten constantly as filming was going on to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Oddly enough, it’s still a bit entertaining, but Mad Max of the Air just can’t do the same types of amazing stunts we get in ground-based post-apocalyptic entries. We got Slipstream from a 20 DVD pack called Space Quest from Brentwood, which we picked up almost a decade ago at this point. The price I paid worked to less than $0.75 a movie, which is still far too much for some of those films. Slipstream is a film that tries too hard to be more than it is, and should be happy just being a B picture. It would have worked better if it tried to do less. Mark Hamill gives off a good performance, not Luke good or Joker good, but better than many of the bumbling fools wandering through many Sci-Fi Channel movies coming out. If that isn’t a good measure in the world of craptacular films, then I don’t know what is.

For those of you in the know, Luke Skywalker’s airplane is a real plane, the The Optica OA7. Yes, someone actually made a real plane that looks like it’s from a 1940’s comic book. More information is on Wikipedia.

Rated 6/10 (grenade time, Red Lobster is still around, by hook or by crook, rock homes, statue, fancy pants)

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