Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Alex Lasker & Wendell Wellman, based on the novel by Craig Thomas
Produced by Clint Eastwood
Arriving with fanfare in June 1982 and introducing Clint Eastwood to a generation of mallrats — who were either too young to get into R-rated movies or too busy pumping quarters into Q*bert to care — Firefox didn’t work then and today figures onto my list of the five biggest clunkers the screen icon ever made. Based on a novel that allegedly came to Eastwood by way of a helicopter pilot he contracted for aerial photography, it’s the exactly the type of high tech cloak and dagger business your barber might recommend. International thrillers like these can be compelling when written by Frederick Forsyth or Tom Clancy, but for starters, Craig Thomas is not in that literary weight class. His source material — as well as the adaptation and direction of the movie version — are cheaper and lazier than they have any excuse to be.
Whether or not it was conceived as Clint Eastwood’s response to the special effects extravaganzas of Lucas or Spielberg, Firefox manages one interesting conceit in a Russian Jewish underground and finds one fun moment, when Eastwood finally pilots the top secret fighter jet into the wild blue yonder. Nothing else elicits much more than a yawn. Visual effects producer John Dykstra held up his end adequately, but Eastwood’s explosiveness as an actor seems poorly suited to the spy genre or to acting in front of a blue screen. Blue Thunder — which followed Firefox into theaters by one year and would have been a classic with Clint in the lead role instead of Roy Schneider — infused excitement and an edge to a very similar storyline. Here, even composer Maurice Jarre turns in work that crashes on the test pad.
Somewhere in Alaska, U.S. Air Force major Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood) has his solitary jog interrupted when a young captain (David Huffman) descends on Gant and compels him to come out of retirement to pilot an experimental Mach 5 fighter jet not only invisible to radar, but equipped with a mind controlled weapons system. Known as Firefox, the jet is parked in a Soviet hangar in Bilyarsk. Fluent in Russian, Gant’s mission would be to infiltrate the base with the help of a dissident group and steal the aircraft. Traumatized by events in Vietnam — where Gant was shot down, captured and witnessed the death of a child in a napalm strike — and prone to panic attacks, he remains NATO’s best option for preventing the Cold War from tipping in favor of the Soviets.
In London, British intelligence expert Kenneth Aubrey (Freddie Jones) disguises Gant and issues him the identity of an American businessman trafficking heroin out of Russia. Proving a poor field operative, Gant bumbles into KGB checkpoints until being provoked into killing an agent in a train station restroom. His contact (Warren Clarke) manages to get Gant on the road to Bilyarsk, where the engineers who built Firefox (Nigel Hawthorne, Ronald Lacey, Dimitra Arliss) have suffered enough persecution from the KGB over their Jewish faith to sacrifice their lives to help Gant. Once in the air, Gant heads for a U.S. submarine on an ice pack in the Arctic Circle to refuel, but finds himself pursued by a prototype Firefox piloted by his Soviet counterpart.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 12 users: 42% for Firefox
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
What do you say?