Long before Space Cowboys or Sully, Clint Eastwood was flexing his flying and cinematic muscles with this high-tech thriller with a bent, not for web-browsing but for aviation; a potential franchise starter, Firefox was an expensive film and wasn’t popular enough to merit sequels, but it’s a literally a fun vehicle for a huge box-office star that got him away from his ongoing 80’s obsessions with jazz, Sondra Locke and orangutans giving us the finger before driving off laughing in their Trans-Ams. We should never let a legend like Eastwood forget that at the height of his creative powers and studio clout, he made not one but two cheeky boxing-monkey Every Which Way But Loose movies.
There’s no such monkey business here; the Cold War is in full swing, and Russian-speaking Vietnam vet Mitchell Gant (Eastwood) is recruited to infiltrate Soviet Russia and return in the cockpit of the Firefox, an adapted MIG-31 so high-tech it actually responds to the thoughts of the pilot, just like Googlemail does today. The first half of the film takes its sweet time to come to the boil, with a lot of Clint standing around in public toilets looking pensive and waiting to speak to a selection of top Brit character actors, including Nigel Hawthorne, Freddie Jones, Ronald Lacey and Warren Clarke. Eastwood directs too, and makes good use of Viennese locations standing in for Russia.
But vintage thesps and locations don’t sell tickets, and things jump up a welcome notch or two when Gant finally gets his hands on the plane and the Russians fire up a second prototype to pursue him, it’s all action fare; even if the projection work isn’t quite to modern standards, it’s fairly amazing for 1982. Star Wars wizz-boffin John Dykstra developed his own reverse blue-screen photography for this film, and while the matte lines are sometimes a distraction, there’s a scattering of stunningly crisp-looking shots in an Empire Strikes Back mode as Gant flies the Firefox to safety, ends the Cold War and everyone is pleased. Even the 1983 Atari video game looks pretty cool, or at least cooler than the Dirty Harry platform game.
Adapted from Craig Thomas’s 1977 novel, which was pretty much ahead of the game when it came to high-tech concepts, Firefox is still fun to watch despite being somewhat overlong, even just as a record of Eastwood learning his trade as director. With another go-round in mind, Thomas did write a sequel, Firefox Down, but Eastwood and audiences had moved on, yet the still-current brand-name and the concept are surely still good for a today’s-tech adaptation today, and the parallel lines of water-waves that the Firefox leaves in its wake when flying low are still a mint, show-stopping visual. Reboot, please!