Air America
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th November 2017).
The Film

"Air America" (1990)

When Billy Covington (Robert Downey Jr.) accepts a job to fly planes in Laos, he expects to join a crew of civilian pilots flying in peaceful air zones. What he gets is Air America, a ragtag group of renegades dodging gunfire to run secret - and shady - missions for the CIA. As danger grows and the line between allies and enemies blurs, Billy turns to a wild and grizzled pilot named Gene Ryack (Mel Gibson). Together, Billy and Gene take a stand against the chaos and become something no one ever believed they could be: heroes.

1987's "Good Morning Vietnam" showed a different side of the Vietnam War - not just the gravity of pain seen in "Platoon" or the existential turmoil seen in "Apocalypse Now", but one that showed comedy during the time of struggle. "Air America" took some cues from "Good Morning Vietnam" by infusing the buddy comedy with the true "Air America" operation that took place during the war with civilian pilots that flew secret missions for the CIA. Based on the 1978 book by journalist Christopher Robbins that chronicled the illegal drug trade from Southeast Asia and the secret operations done by the CIA, the film adaptation of "Air America" is less of a documentary and more of a way to capitalize on the continued success of buddy comedies with the success of war films.

Mel Gibson was hot off the heels of "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989) being two of the highest grossing action films and having no issues playing the slightly off center character in a buddy comedy. Robert Downey Jr. was one of the brightest up and comers in Hollywood at the time, with comedic supporting roles in "Weird Science" (1985) and "Back to School" (1986) as well as a very acclaimed dramatic performance in "Less Than Zero" (1987). For "Air America" Downey more of less plays the straight man to Gibson's slightly crazy character, but not all is perfect on Downey's character of Billy. He gets fired from his job as an air traffic reporter due to misbehavior, but it was to his defense trying to help an ambulance reach an accident site quicker. Billy is a humanitarian at heart and he does see the job of airlifting supplies for refugees as a positive thing, and possibly the only thing he can do at this point after his job termination. Gibson's character of Gene has seen much more during his stint. He knows it is not a simple task of flying, making air drops and returning. His planes have been shot at, lives have been lost, and not everything being air lifted is for relief efforts. The two leads do a fairly good job in their scenes together but unlike many of the buddy films of its time, the amount of screentime they have together is fairly limited, with the first half not having much interaction, though that would differ in the latter portion. Even with all the other ragtag pilots that are part of the Air America operation, there doesn't seem to be much of a camaraderie between the men, similar to the men in "The Wages of Fear" who may have each other's backs at times and careless in others. It's unfortunate that the rest of the male characters do not get much more in depth to their roles. And that also goes for women, or a woman as it should be pointed out. Nancy Travis' character of Corinne who is there for humanitarian aid is severely underused. She could have been a potential love interest or more but her character is relegated to something barely necessary, even for the final segment. Even supporting actors such as Ken Jenkins and Lane Smith perform very two dimensional characters in their roles.

The film looks especially good due to the vibrant jungle locations shot in Thailand for Laos, with lush greens and dirty browns filling the screen, but one thing that seems troubling is how anachronistic it looks. Though it opens with 1969 and are shown the news footage of Richard Nixon on television, the film never seems to feel like 1969, with hair, style, music cues, and overall look. One could easily think it was supposed to be contemporary 1990 America rather than during the Vietnam War. It may look good but it doesn't look accurate.

The cost for the film escalated to $35 million due to the multiple locations in the United States and Asia as well as the cost of aircraft rental and aircraft destruction, and reshoots because of weather issues. The film was not a big hit with critics though it was fairly well received by audiences, but not enough to signify a smash hit as it only made $31 million theatrically in America. The film did fare better on video and television as it was a straightforward story with likeable leads in an unusual though true situation.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can play back on any Blu-ray player worldwide


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Lionsgate Films released the film on Blu-ray in the United States in 2009 and this seems to come from the same master. While eight years old the US Blu-ray still holds up well in picture quality and so this Australian release is quite on par. The jungle greens look wonderful, the orange and reds from fireball explosions as well. There are no issues of damage or inconsistencies with the transfer, looking fairly clean all the way through. Skin tones are a little on the pale side, but it does look as it would for a late 80s / early 90s production.

The film's runtime is 112:36.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
The lossless audio track is presented in 7.1. The film does not call out for a 7.1 remix, but Lionsgate in the early days of Blu-ray frequently mixed 7.1 tracks when major studios were still on 5.1 for the norm. Umbrella has licensed the same US 7.1 track for their Blu-ray edition and while it sounds great, it never truly seems like the 7.1 track gets a decent workout in the surround channels. There are explosions and sounds of gunfire but they are mostly spread through the front channels giving the surrounds the subtle cues. Dialogue is always easy to understand and there are no defects in the track to speak of.

There are no subtitles provided for the film.


While the US Blu-ray had a commentary, multiple featurettes and other promotional material, the Australian release gets nothing. No menu either. The film plays on start-up and when the film ends, the disc stops.


The packaging claims that the audio is 5.1 but it is in fact a 7.1 audio track.
The packaging also claims that the disc is locked to region B but it is in fact a region ALL Blu-ray.
The inlay is reversible, with the only difference being the alternate artwork does not have the Australian "M" classification on the front.


"Air America" is a fun ride but it lacks a real depth to the real life subject matter of war and the drug trade, but concentrating on the buddy interaction instead. It has its moments but overall, if not for Gibson and Downey it may have been not much else. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray gives good marks in video and audio but sadly there are no extras to speak of on this barebones release.

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: F- Overall: C


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