Air America (1990)

The first time I seen this movie in a theater in Suchiehall Street Glasgow, when I was at university and I recall laughing my ass off.  I let this one sit and age on the shelf and with a little nervousness I dusted off the cover and took it for another spin.  Fortunately it has aged very well.

Mel Gibson plays Gene, a seasoned pilot flying in the Air America unit in Vietnam.   This is a humanitarian relief unit that is a cover for the USA CIA amidst all the fighting.  So running guns and various other questionable activities are all done in plain sight with no one really blinking an eye – since they aren’t there officially.

Pilots are hard to come by, and due to a eye-in-the-sky traffic incident in LA,

Robert Downey Jr. as Billy, is hired to go out to Vietnam and join the crew.   It is through these eyes that we are introduced to the world on the other side of the world.

This is a buddy-pilot movie, with lots of quick response one-liners and comedic commentary on the USA’s involvement in the far east in the 1970′s.   Air America was a real thing from the 1950′s to the middle 1970′s, so while there was some artistic license taken, there was a lot more truth to some of the side stories than we may care to want to believe (for example, dropping extra large condoms to intimidate the Asian men that American men are far more hung than they really are).

The story centers around a visit from a Washington Senator sent over to see how things are progressing.  Of course the local brass are running drugs with the local Vietnamese army general and they want to make sure non of this comes to light.

You could be cynical and think this movie was a reaction to the excellent Robin Williams classic Good Morning, Vietnam,  but you would be mistaken.  Air America, while out after that outing, was written and secured well before Williams’s vehicle was off the ground.  It suffered various production delays which meant it came in second.

Mel Gibson and Robert Downey are an excellent pairing in this movie and many of Mel’s friends pop up as background characters (thought no Lethal Weapon Danny Clover moments in this one!).   This movie came out in the same year as his other comedy, Bird on a wire, with Golden Hawn.  Again, very similar humor as Air America.

Enjoyable outing and well worth seeing Iron Man when he was all fresh and youthful.


Viewing Date
Thursday, 24th September 2015


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Author: Alan Williamson

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