Film review: Drop Zone

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

Snipes, who always brings some heft to a film - simply by virtue of his naturally charismatic presence - stars in "Drop Zone" as a U.S. marshal assigned with his brother (Malcolm-Jamal Warner, of TV's "The Cosby Show") to transfer a criminal computer hacker (Michael Jeter, of TV's "Evening Shade") from one federal prison to another. En route, however, the plane is taken over by a group of terrorists, led by evil Gary Busey. They kidnap Jeter and jump 38,000 feet from the Boeing 747.

Back on the ground (the film is set in Florida), Snipes begins investigating - and he's told no one can jump from a passenger airliner at that height and survive. Worse, his brother is blamed for reacting badly in a crisis, evidence is discovered that Jeter is among the dead and Snipes himself is suspended.

Not one to give up easily, however, Snipes continues investigating, despite FBI insistence that the hijackers are dead, since surviving that jump would be impossible. But when Snipes discovers that such a jump has been done, he sets out to infiltrate an elite corps of sky divers.

Meanwhile, Busey and his band of bad guys practice their sky-diving skills as they prepare for a major criminal operation, one that involves Jeter's hacking talent. The plan is to get inside the Drug Enforcement Agency's computer files, steal the identities of undercover agents and sell them to a drug lord.

As the film moves along, however, plotting becomes more and more illogical - and late in the film there are bits of business that remove the story so far from reality that audience goodwill is stretched to the breaking point. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but this film asks us to abandon it altogether.

What's more, "Drop Zone" is certainly not for those who suffer from vertigo - everyone in this picture falls out of a plane sooner or later, and there are all sorts of fancy in-the-air acrobatics, which at times are downright dizzying and even mesmerizing. And it certainly helps that the actors - Snipes, Busey, Jeter, Yancy Butler, etc. - seem to be doing a certain amount of their own sky diving.

As directed by John Badham, the emphasis in "Drop Zone" is clearly on breakneck action, and there's plenty of that. In fact, there are moments when the hair on the back of your neck will likely take on a life of its own.

But the frantic pace eventually wears out its welcome, the plot does not fare well under scrutiny and the characters are woefully underdeveloped. Among Badham's collected works, this one falls somewhere south of "War-Games" and "Stakeout" . . . down there in "Bird on a Wire" territory.

Speedy it is. "Speed" it ain't.

"Drop Zone" is rated R for violence, profanity and vulgarity.