Nicolas Cage in: Fire Birds

Fire Birds

Released in 1990 ▪ Review posted August 3, 2014

“Propaganda is not a matter for average minds, but rather a matter for practitioners. It is not supposed to be lovely or theoretically correct.”

Joseph Göbbels

Fire Birds is not so much a “movie” as it is a propaganda film created to support America’s “war on drugs.” A lot of misinformation was created during the frenzy of drug moralizing that swept the nation in the ’80s and ’90s, much of which is still taken as true to this day. The end of the 20th century was a confusing time, with everyone developing an unhealthy paranoia of cocaine (because of how much cocaine they were on).

Contributing to the blow-fueled disinformation campaign is the blindly patriotic Fire Birds. As a “movie,” it’s just like Top Gun, except with helicopters instead of fighter jets and no energetic, gay volleyball scenes. It might be the worst-written film I’ve ever seen, worse than Scary Movie 2, Drive Me Crazy, and Lost in Translation. For one thing, there’s a scene where Nicolas Cage is playing a helicopter simulation game, repeating “I am the greatest” over and over as he blows up blocky virtual objects. The terrible scenes like that one that make up Fire Birds were written by Nick Thiel and Paul F. Edwards, who were also involved in the direct-to-video Bambi II and the failed TV series Baywatch Nights, respectively.

It’s not just the writing, though. Cage is bad too. He never rises above the material. His performance is stiff and devoid of authenticity. He isn’t believable as a soldier, much less an American hero. He goes through Fire Birds doing a mix of his best Tom Cruise impression and sleepwalking. To say this is a flat performance would be to put it lightly. It’s more like a nightmare that resists any attempt to make sense.

His father/son relationship with Tommy Lee Jones, his military mentor, is poorly constructed and shallow. It’s not clear why they respect each other, and you don’t care what happens to either of them. Cage’s performance has no conviction. None of his character choices are believable. At one point he high-kicks the empty air in frustration, which might have been the most juvenile cinematic physicality I’ve ever seen. This ridiculousness extends to the formulaic love interest, played by one of Hollywood’s favorite nut jobs, Sean Young.

You may remember Sean Young from Blade Runner, or maybe from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. I choose to remember her as the person who was so obsessed with getting the role of Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns that she went on The Joan Rivers Show in an ersatz Catwoman costume. It did not work out well for her. Anyway, she’s in Fire Birds too and does a terrible job.

There’s not much else to say about a “movie” with universally terrible acting, direction, writing, and cinematography, and that starts off like an old arcade game with some posturing quote from George H. W. Bush about drugs and drug cartels and evil. In contrast to The Rock, Fire Birds plateaus at failure right away and then trends downward for eighty-four crippling minutes. Watch it yourself, if you dare.

How was the movie?
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Did his performance make the movie worse?
Yes, that was part of it