I don’t really understand how someone can dislike a film like Terminal Velocity. Here is a film that is chock-full of action scenes, doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a ton of enjoyable one-liners, and has a plot so ridiculous that it’s laughable to even try to describe it. It takes someone taking life too seriously to dismiss something like that. No, it’s not exactly a good film, but it’s an incredibly fun one.
It does, however, take a long time to actually get to these silly action scenes. That’s the first problem that Terminal Velocity has. We get one right off the bat, a seemingly random scene which involves a woman being tortured inside of her apartment. Then we cut to a man named Ditch Brodie (Charlie Sheen) hang gliding down into the middle of the city, breaking numerous laws in the process. He’s a skydiving instructor, and has managed to amass 12 safety violations in the last month. He’s charming, though, and nobody seems to take these violations too seriously.
One day, that same woman from earlier, Chris (Nastassja Kinski) comes in and wants a skydiving lesson. Despite having some business to attend to, Ditch agrees and, before you know it, they’re up in an airplane thousands of feet above the Earth. While Ditch is talking to the pilot, Chris jumps out of the plane, refuses to pull her shoot, and dies. Soon enough, manslaughter charges are being considered, the skydiving business has been shut down, and this seemingly suicidal woman has effectively ruined Ditch’s life.
If only the film ended there. It would be a meditative little mood piece that might work perfectly as a short film. “Why did she jump?” would probably be the primary question on the audience’s mind. Anyway, she’s actually alive, and after a series of events, she and Ditch have to team up in order to save all of Russia from former KGB agents who are planning to overthrow the government using stolen gold. I only wish I was kidding about the plot, and believe me when I say that it unfolds just about that quickly.
So, after all of this is revealed, we basically just move from set-piece to other set-piece with very, very basic reasons for doing so. Ditch is basically dragged into what amounts to a small war between one Russian woman who speaks very good English, and other Russian dudes who all also speak very good English. Cast members of the former KGB include James Gandolfini and Christopher McDonald — not exactly the most Russian actors you’ll see out there.
I think that someone like Charlie Sheen is why this film manages to be as fun as it is. Not necessarily him exclusively, as any actor with decent comedic timing and the kind of “I don’t care” attitude that he possesses would do, but that’s the kind of person that’s required. I doesn’t matter what situation he encounters, he’ll always be the one to crack a one-liner and smirk as he laughs through the ridiculousness that’s being thrown his way. It’s fun to watch action heroes enjoying themselves, especially when the entire experience is silly, and it’s for this reason that Terminal Velocity is an enjoyable watch.
Well, there’s Sheen, and then there are also all of the action scenes that he and Kinski are put through. After the movie gets going, it really gets going. Apart from one short scene that contains possibly the best line in the film, Terminal Velocity throws everything it can at you. While this amount of action can become tiresome, the joking really helps ease tension and makes sure that you’re never too worried or too exhausted by the events you’re watching. You can’t help but laugh at the way some of them end, as well, even if there are some genuinely thrilling moments.
Unfortunately, nobody else seems to be having as much fun as Sheen is, and the film suffers because of this. All of the other actors play their roles straight, taking this project way too seriously and giving it far more credit than it deserves. The energy dies down whenever Sheen isn’t the focus. This kind of film needs its actors to realize that they’re not in a serious film, but the supporting cast (including Kinski) are far too serious and grim. Their acting is the main reason that Terminal Velocity sometimes doesn’t work.
The other reasons are less bothersome, but I can see them making the film less enjoyable for some. The too-ridiculous-to-believe plot is sometimes distracting, the one liners are annoying if you don’t enjoy them, and the long period of time before the action begins needed to be drastically shortened. That one breather scene also felt out of place, but was required. More might have actually been beneficial, and if that were to have occurred, that one scene wouldn’t seem so out of place.
What you get for most of the time is a ridiculous action-packed thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously and ends up being a whole lot of fun. It has a plot that you’ll laugh at, one actor that knows the film’s a joke while the others think it’s serious, and a bunch of spectacular action scenes. Even if you laugh at the plot, you’ll at least be wowed by the set-pieces. Skydiving, conveniently, makes for a perfect area to stage action scenes, especially ones involving heavy objects falling fast toward the ground below. This isn’t a good movie, but it’s a fun one, and is worth recommending just for that.