Watch 'Into the Sun' if you must, but it could damage your eyes

January 31, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

The great critic James Agee has a memorable line in his review of "God Is My Co-Pilot" describing dogfighting and heroism, Hollywood-style: ". . . there is a great deal of air combat on a process screen, obstructed by the customary close-ups of pilots smiling grimly as they give or take death in a studio, for considerably more than soldier's pay, a yard above the ground." But that was the '40s.

This is the '90s: Everything's the same but smaller -- now the pilots are an inch above the ground! And so is the movie!

"Into the Sun" isn't nearly as good as the kind of routine action programmer -- "God Is My Co-Pilot," for example -- that drove Agee out of the movie reviewing business and into the movie writing business. Pardon the chuckle, folks, but -- heh-heh! -- "Into the Sun" would have KILLED him! It would have turned him into MEAT! You could put NICKELS on his eyelids!

You have to be as coarse as goat cheese on saltines to survive its inanities. Utterly banal, puerile beyond description and flippantly preposterous, it demonstrates how much screen craft has been forgotten since 1945. It labors wheezily to combine motifs from two of the most overblown movies of our times -- "Top Gun" and the entirely forgettable "Hard Way," whose absurdities it leavens with . . . model airplanes putt-putting above the Mojave desert and footage of . . . the Peruvian Air Force in action!

Those two great stars Michael Pare and Anthony Michael Hall cavort as Junior Birdmen of the mild blue yonder. Pare is an F-16 jockey "somewhere in the Middle East," the Middle East being dTC the middle of East Burbank. He's much put upon when a movie star named Tom comes cruising along to do research on being a fighter pilot for an upcoming role. Anthony Michael Hall as a movie star -- now that's funny!

He was once, of course, in "16 Candles" and "The Breakfast Club." But Hall has somehow thickened and widened; that guileless innocence and cheeky insouciance of pre-adolescence have vanished utterly, leaving in their place the mundane torpor of undistinguished post-adolescence. And at 23, he looks ancient and weirdly gigantic, a Macy's float of what he once was. The thin conceit of the script -- that he is a "natural" at the hand-eye games that make a fighter pilot whereas old pro Pare has to struggle -- isn't nearly enough to sustain the story.

Occasionally, in the jostling boy-talk between the faux and authentic fighter pilots, the movie bumbles into some amusement, but not so's you'd notice. However, at about the halfway point "Into the Sun" becomes a straight action adventure yarn, when our two guys in their three-foot radio controlled F-16 are shot down over a country that looks like southern Arizona and is controlled by an evil A-rab who is clearly the Emir of Central Casting.

In truth, the movie has one surprise: The "enemy" pilot is revealed eventually to be an icy-blooded American yuppie call-signed "Dragon" and played with the only charisma in the neighborhood by an actor named Linden Ashby. But the rest is hooey of an entirely routine sort. The A-rabs torture our boys, who won't crack; they "escape" and race through the camp with AK-47s, gunning down fleets of anonymous extras. They manage to dodge the bullets and generic explosions and make it to a two-foot-long Mirage and go airborne. At that point, the Peruvian air force takes over.

At least I think it does. Hall says that the footage of the "real jets" is from Peru's squadron of F-16s and Mirages, but the production notes say that the Peruvian expedition came up empty-handed and suggests that all the birds are models. Hard to believe: Those are big jets up there, and whenever the C-grade actors and the D-grade plot stop and the airplanes are alone in the sky, the movie -- or rather the recruiting poster for Peru's finest -- is at least watchable.

''Into the Sun''

STARRING: Anthony Michael Hall and Michael Pare

DIRECTOR: Fritz Kiersch



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