one of the reasons i am fascinated by direct to video movies is that most of the time, it’s a crapshoot. though less true than it used to be, direct to video movies feels a lot like someone’s homemade movie. they used to fall into either surprisingly good or extremely bad, not really a middle ground. but with the asylum and the darwinism of movie distribution, nowadays even direct to video movies may have a decent budget, which in turn makes them less adventurous.
i first came across interceptor through netflix’s hostage action category. the plot summary seemed to fit the die hard-ish category. made in 1992 and released direct to video in 1993, and even though netflix has the worst plot summary and recommendation i’ve ever seen, interceptor is a pretty nice surprise for a direct to video die hard clone.
andrew divoff plays captain christopher winfield, an air force officer testing the newest stealth fighter with virtual reality capacity. the technology didn’t quite work out and he is forced to eject from the stealth fighter leading it to crash. as a punishment for crashing the plane, even though it’s not his fault, winfield is forced to take a commuter plane from turkey back to the u.s., meanwhile, australian villian phillips, played by jurgen prochnow, intends to steal the two stealth fighers. the stealth fighters happen to be on the same transporter flight as winfield.
interceptor is a pretty solid d-t-v action movie. it opens somewhat underwhelmingly with 12 minutes of flight footage. at this point it seems more like a top gun clone than anything else. there’s an ejection scene that reminds me of die hard 2: die harder. thankfully, the second act takes place on the transporter plane. the way the bad guys board the plane will no doubt make you think of executive decision, which came out three, four years later.
unfortunately, only the middle of the movie stays on the transporter plane. other than the opening, the climax also involves the stealth fighters. considering that it was made in probably 1992, it’s more of a riff on die hard 1 and 2 but certainly not more of a ripoff than say, under siege or passenger 57, both came out in 1992.
i suppose i could question a certain logic in the movie: why would the military transport winfield on the same flight as the two stealth fighters? or why the bad guys want to steal the stealth jets? or how the terrorists group is able to intercept a plane in mid air from australia while said plane is going from turkey to the u.s.? or why the terrorist group contains members wearing big glasses and purple leggings? or why the virtual reality hamlet has to be frozen? and lastly, why, if the fighter jets are capable of being stealthy, is virtual reality piloting necessary?
i’m not quite sure what it is but i’m kind of rooting for the movie and its heroes. other than the fact that they are simply likable, it probably has to do with the performances. though without a doubt a low budget movie, the performances are overall solid. divoff is pretty believable as a regular guy stuck in a situation. there’s room for a female pilot of the transporter jet, played by elizabeth morehead, who’s better used here than most die hard-ish or d-t-v movies. her role here actually exceeds any of the wife/daughter/girlfriend roles in any die hard movies and its clones, since she actually gets her own asskicking scene. by the way, she later plays the piano player in that pez dispenser episode of seinfeld.
of course, it also helps that the bad guy is played by jurgen prochnow, who livens up the generic european die hard-ish villian. unlike our hero, he is the only one who gets the how-bad-ass-is-he scene that will no doubt, at first, reminds you of reservoir dogs, which came out the same year. that interrogation scene introducing the prochnow character is actually rather brilliant.
ultimately i think what i like most is that despite its low budget, interceptor has a pretty solid premise and the sincere effort by everyone involve makes you root for it to succeed even though it’s never really that exciting. it was made at about the same time the die hard formula was being fully exploited. it also doesn’t go with the ironic detached cynicism, meta/post-whatever route that a lot of the latter die hard-ish movies go. there’s no cheesy supposedly witty one liners. and the title isn’t just a generic action movie two word pun. in fact, the interceptor could be refered to the hero, the villian, or the jets.
also, when someone falls out of a plane in this movie, we don’t hear the theme to a summer place to make us realize it’s supposed to be funny. nope, no so-bad-it’s-good or unintentionally funny stuff here. the only difference between under siege 1 or passenger 57 (both released within a couple of months before this in 92) and interceptor is box office potential fueled by star power.
the pitch: die hard on a plane
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: andrew divoff, who seems like an even more regular guy than john mcclane. though he ends up in a sleeveless shirt and blood on his face and body, he did not suffer any eyebrow cuts.
the gruber factor: jurgen prochnow. the film takes time and effort to make him evil and succeed.
the hans objective: to steal the stealth jets from the transporter plane in mid air. they didn’t really explain why though, i don’t think.
wrong place at the wrong time: the transporter plane is in the air when the bad guys board the plane, so he is indeed trapped.
the help: elizabeth morehead’s major morgan. though she is introduced like kelly mcgillis in top gun, and you think that she’s only the help to our hero, they end up more like partners than hero and sidekick. this makes the movie more advanced than most die hard-ish films, most of which are made after interceptor came out.
the family element: no one’s family is actually in danger. though divoff’s character has an ex-wife and kids, which we see the photograph he keeps in his wallet. morehead’s pilot is the only one of his crew to survive eventually.
bonfire of the weaponry: guns, knives, fire extinguisher, toilet flush, stealth fighter missile, snake, snake anecdote/poison.
last man standing: it’s kind of disappointing that the hero vs. villain face off takes place in a dogfight scene, there’s no hand to hand combat or fight sequences.
unbearables: the hero in the bathroom when shit went down, the hero’s having an ex-wife and kids pictures, and him being caught while calling for help reminds of die hard 1. the hero’s shirt becomes sleeveless and his face bloody, a la john mcclane, sans the eyebrow cuts. the plane miraculously survives two explosions and numerous shots, like most die-hard-on-a-plane movies. the refueling scene is very similar to executive decision except without steven seagal, and it’s the bad guys who are trying to board the plane in mid air, instead of the good guys. there are quite a few elements similar to top gun. a black ground controller doesn’t provide quite as much help as al or samuel l. jackson in die hard 1 -3. the bad guys favor throat cutting and wears white lab coats as in die hard 2. the nerdy scientist wears glasses but is much older and white as in die hard 1. divoff is also in die hard-ish movies like the hunt for red october, toy soldiers, and albert pyun’s blast. villain prochnow appears in die hard-ish das boot, and tv movie heaven’s fire. they are both in the die hard-ish air force one.