Don’t waste your time trying to take the muddled politics of Blown Away seriously. The backstory of political terrorism that propels Irish prison escapee Ryan Gaerity (Tommy Lee Jones) to want to blow up Boston Bomb Squad big shot James Dove (Jeff Bridges) and all he holds dear in this wildly unfocused but giddily energetic action-thriller has nothing to do with the passions that ignite In the Name of the Father or, indeed, with any real grievances known to people who aren’t movie characters. From what I can make of it, being Irish for Jones means talking in an unstable accent, drinking Guinness, wearing a leather cap, and listening to the music of U2 while building exquisitely complicated bombs that incorporate contact-lens cases, whirling children’s toys, rolling marbles, and feathered arrows into their fanciful architecture.
Strip away the Irish troubles and the Boston color and what you’ve got from director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2) is your basic pumped-up tick-tocker: Can Bridges defuse faster than Jones can destroy? Comparisons with Speed are inevitable. Both begin with a successful rescue; both, at times, involve a vehicle (driven by a woman) that can’t slow down; both throw in plot decoys and fireballs, climaxes and codas. But while Speed is coolly devoid of any real emotional entanglements, Blown Away ladles on the sentiment. Dove has a pretty, ethereal-looking sweetheart (Suzy Amis), whom he marries to the accompaniment of festive Irish fiddling; he’s got a sweet young stepdaughter (Stephi Lineburg); he’s got a wise, plucky old uncle (Jeff’s father, Lloyd Bridges). He’s even got a true-blue buddy (Forest Whitaker) who comes through in the nick of time. Bomb-squad people who need people, we learn, are the luckiest people in the world.
All this baggage is clumsy, and Blown Away is often a mess of conflicting tones and rhythms. A fatal explosion early on is paced as if it were apocalyptic; a mid-plot scene in which Dove’s wife and stepdaughter are potentially in peril in their house is filmed playfully, with a wink to the visual elements of suspense. The actors, meanwhile, go giddy with adrenaline: Jones frolics in a private carnival of motivations; Whitaker is determinedly indecipherable; Bridges pere is having an old coot’s hoot of a time; Amis chews her lip with outsize concern for her man. In the middle of the fray, only Jeff Bridges approaches normal-size expression, giving Dove an appealing heft and thoughtfulness in the few moments he is allowed to be still. And even he is given to howling with grief as flames roar around him and Blown Away counts down to its daft, flaming, soulful Irish conclusion. C+