a critiQal film review Drop Zone (1994)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Pete Nessip (Snipes) and his brother are U.S. Marshalls escorting convicted computer hacker Earl Leedy (Jeter) to a federal prison on a commercial 747. Mid-flight, an apparent terrorist attack results in an on-board explosion, the death of Pete's brother and Leedy's disappearance. In the aftermath, Pete's badge is suspended while authorities investigate the accident. Determined to track down his brother's killers and locate Leedy, Nessip is drawn into the daredevil world of exhibition skydiving, aided by ex-con sky-diver Jessie (Butler).

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  • ...a by-the-numbers action pic helped along by some solid stunt work.

Back before Wesley Snipes started having IRS troubles, he was churning out a string of decent action pics, including Art Of War (2000), Passenger 57 (1992) before coming along with Drop Zone. Would this supposedly high-octane thriller set in the adrenaline junkie-realm of skydiving be worth checking out again? Or was I projecting positive memories on a film that wouldn’t live up to them?

By the time Drop Zone was released, Wesley Snipes already had his “action hero” persona firmly set in stone. Unfortunately, while that action hero served him well, by this point, viewers are starting to notice he’s playing the character by rote, and not putting as much “oomph” into the portrayal as he used to. Still, since Wesley would have been able to play the character in his sleep in 1994, he does his job in the film and keeps the viewer interested – if not actually excited – in what is going to happen next.

Gary Busey, giving off a bit of a crazy vibe that even in 1994 had already become his signature (which was better highlighted in his previous films Lethal Weapon (1987) and Under Siege (1992)), is really the only other semi-defined character. The rest of the characters, including the constantly hoarse Yancy Butler, aren’t nearly as well-defined. And, while Yancy’s Jessie is Snipes’ guide into the world of sky-diving, the rest of the characters are mostly background noise until their one moment in the spotlight (which is obviously the only reason the other characters are there at all).

Drop Zone will seem very familiar for viewers who have seen Passenger 57 (1992) or Point Break as it borrows a lot from both films – which makes it easy to spot the twists and turns coming from miles away. Thankfully, the film doesn’t exactly hinge on these supposedly hidden twists to make it work, and so doesn’t suffer as much when they are guessed at early on. Of course, the plot has a few holes as well, but the formulaic setup is all this one needs to do the job.

Drop Zone makes up for it’s predictability, however, by letting viewers in for a closer look at the world of skydivers. Sure, it’s a rather quick and simplistic look, but it still gets the adrenaline rushing to watch characters jump out of planes with (and without) parachutes. Thanks to some solid editing and smart directing, the viewer can almost feel the after effects of the adrenaline surge as the characters fall, their fear the ‘chute won’t open, and their relief when it does and slows their plummet towards certain death. True, even watching stuntmen skydive is still a boost to the adrenaline, but when the film is actually able to make it seem like the actors are the ones risking life and limb, it gives it an extra edge.

Sadly, that suspension of disbelief doesn’t last through the finale, which seems to have been tossed together at the last minute – complete with some downright awfully-edited shots – and does detract a little bit from the viewer’s overall feel of the film, but not by much.

A by-the-numbers action thriller improved by some decently executed skydiving sequences, Drop Zone should satisfy most action fans – especially if the idea of a Passenger 57 (1992)/Point Break combo film is appealing.

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