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Bird on a Wire
1990 - PG-13 - 110 Mins.
Director: John Badham
Written By: Louis Venosta and Eric Lerner
Starring: Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Stephen Tobolowski, John Carradine, Bill Duke
Review by: John Ulmer
There's a reason that "Bird on a Wire" is one of those forgotten films from the 80s. It's forgotten because it's not very good at all.

John Badham is a very unpredictable director. He can turn out great films ("Saturday Night Fever," "The Hard Way") and very bad ones ("Another Stakeout"). The reason, I think, is because there is a very fine line between bad action films and good ones--if you try to explain the reasons that "Speed" works versus something such as "Hard Rain" (written by the same writer), it's hard to do. They both feature generally decent acting, generally original--and wholly unbelievable--ideas, and some good action scenes. So why is "Speed" so great and why is "Hard Rain" so bad?

Some of Badham's films teeter on the brink of badness. With a few more action pieces and less funny moments of interaction between the two leads, "The Hard Way" could have suffered the fate of, say, "Another Stakeout." But it turned out to be a genuinely funny and moving comedy with two likable stars doing the best they could to make the film a winner.

"Bird on a Wire" has two likable leads but little else. The plot is all routine, and totally irrelevant. It's just a way to get Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn to run across America together and crack some bad jokes. It's a reason to see Goldie in a thong (again) and Mel's hairy butt (again). It's a reason to see them make out and to see some big explosions. It's a reason to see Mel Gibson do his gay barber impersonation and to see Goldie roll her eyes a lot at him. It's also a fine reason to see one of the only action showdowns set inside an artificial jungle at a zoo housing an assortment of wildlife creatures. Who thought this stuff up? Who in their right mind ever thought it would actually work?

Does "Bird on a Wire" sound interesting to you?

Well, it is, to a certain degree. It's generally a decent movie--something worth watching if nothing good is on TV some late Friday night. But this is not a good rental, and it's not even something I'd want to watch again--and I'm a pretty big Mel Gibson fan ("Lethal Weapon" all the way!).

Mel is the relocated witness who testified against some drug lords (Bill Duke and John Carradine) who have just gotten out of prison and are now targeting him with the help of a corrupt FBI agent (Stephen Tobolowski, who played the pesky Ned in "Groundhog Day," filmed three years later).

Rick (Gibson) is going under the alias of a Louisiana redneck when his old girlfriend (Hawn) sees him working at a gas station and blows his cover. When she comes back later to check up on him, she foils the baddies' plans to kill Rick--and the two old love birds escape into the night, with Rick's real identity having been erased from the FBI records (is it as easy as just clicking a button? I hope not.).

Essentially we get a lot of running and screaming and yelling and cheap wisecracks throughout the film, with an ending that stretches on too long before it just grows tiresome. It's like the climactic finale of "The Third Man" that takes place beneath the grimy sewers Vienna--except that Reed knew when to end that picture's climax, and Badham lets it go on too long.

This movie could have been an exceptional road-buddy movie, but it's rather a disappointing blend of action and weak comedy that tries to take two of Hollywood's hottest leading stars (at the time) and place them together in some pointless situations. (Gibson is still one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood--what happened to Hawn?)

I would only recommend something like "Bird on a Wire" if you happen to come across it late on night on television and you have nothing better to do with your time, or if you're a particularly big fan of either of the leading stars. Otherwise, just go watch "Lethal Weapon" or "Just Like Old Times" again--they're much better, and hey, they're actually funny.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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