In western Germany, where Air America was released only recently, some theaters have stopped showing the movie because of gulf war protests. That’s odd: Air America is an antiwar movie. Its problem is that it makes its point so haphazardly the message flies past you faster than the aircraft on-screen.
Set in Laos in 1969, Air America depicts a fictional CIA operation posing as a cargo plane company. Between deliveries of supplies to local villages, the pilots carry drugs for a corrupt Laotian general to subsidize his war effort against those North Vietnamese next door. Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. play misfit civilian fly-boys who do the CIA’s dirty work first and ask questions later. Gibson’s the world-weary vet, Downey’s the wild and crazy rebel. (A picture or two earlier, Gibson would have been given the Downey part, with Clint Eastwood in Gibson’s place.) Together they wing it through a script that superficially mixes the satire of M*A*S*H, the cynicism of Salvador, and the high jinks of your basic buddy movie. Along the way there are some diverting thrills and spills. But, like the Gibson and Downey characters in one scene, Air America has some trouble taking off.