Blown Away starts out auspiciously enough. As the credits roll and the ethereal, melancholy music moans, the camera skips over a rough sea. Murky green waves fill the screen. The water looks cold and deep. The mood is hypnotic, foreboding. Every now and again you hear a muffled roar off in the distance. Is it thunder? Bombing? Or just a bass drum added to the musical score to sound portentous? Whatever the source, the water and the rumbling do not stop until the camera reaches land and swoops up a jagged cliff to a long establishing shot of Castle Gleigh Prison in Northern Ireland, a gothic hellhole of a place that could have been modeled after the Turkish dungeon in Midnight Express. Inside, the prison is every bit as dank and unforgiving as the exterior led us to believe. By and by we enter the cell of Tommy Lee Jones, all stringy-haired, ashen-faced, and mangy-looking. Tommy Lee wastes little time fashioning a bomb out of materials he has hidden in his cell and his body cavities. He covers himself with as much padding as he can scrape together, blows a four-foot-diameter hole through one of the walls, and escapes. It's never explained how he negotiates the cliffs or the ocean, however, and that's a telling omission. From this point on, Blown Away is riddled with holes.
Cut to Boston where Jeff Bridges putt-putts down the street on his motorcycle. He is wearing cool shades and a loud Hawaiian shirt and there is a dog sitting on his lap. We soon find out he is a member of Boston's bomb-disposal squad and the latest cinematic incarnation of that revered movie archetype, the nonconformist cop. Soon Bridges is defusing a bomb in the M.I.T. computer lab, which entails snipping one of two wires, although he doesn't know which one will deactivate the bomb and which one will blow it up. The odds are 50-50. This being a movie and Jeff Bridges being one of the stars, it wouldn't do to kill him off so quickly. He guesses correctly and becomes the hero.
Video footage of Bridges's deed is beamed around the world on CNN. Tommy Lee Jones sees it while entertaining a few lovely ladies in an Irish pub. Something about Bridges really rankles him. Maybe it's the way the veteran actor appears to be sleepwalking through his part. Soon Bridges is watching his co-workers go boom.
So there's your basic premise. Tommy Lee Jones is a psychotic killer recently escaped from a prison in Northern Ireland. Jeff Bridges is a nice guy bomb-squad cop who wants to retire and enjoy some quality time with his wife and stepdaughter. There are several plot developments any seasoned moviegoer will be able to guess at this point:
The cop and the bomber met before
The bomber wants revenge
The cop's partner will die
The cop will not be able to retire as planned
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There will be lots of slow-motion running and screaming as the cop figures out where bombs are planted and tries to warn his colleagues
The cop's family members will become targets
The bad guy will be done in by his own handiwork
It's amazing how closely Blown Away resembles Speed, this summer's other, far more entertaining, mad-bomber flick. From the basic conceit of a demented demolitions expert wreaking havoc on a helpless city to the climactic ending where one specific cop of the villain's choosing must board a rapidly moving vehicle and defuse a bomb that is wired to explode if the speedometer dips, the similarities are enough to trigger an attack of dej vu. The only suspense Blown Away generates is trying to figure out who came up with the blow-it-if-it-slows idea first.
Thank goodness for Tommy Lee Jones, who makes a fine villain, better than Dennis Hopper in Speed but not quite as good as John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire. Menacing despite a mangled Irish accent (hey, Al Pacino's failure to sound authentically Cuban didn't ruin Scarface), Jones's performance is the best thing about this film, although the crowning explosion is a corker. And there's a funny-scary sequence set in Bridges's family's house when his wife and stepdaughter arrive shortly after Jones has departed; every time they turn a knob or flick a light switch the music swells and the camera zooms in tight and you expect a booby trap to go off and blow them all to bits.
But the rest of it is all pretty much by-the-numbers. You'll be a step ahead of the story most of the way -- even the U2 songs that bolster the soundtrack are well-worn ("With or Without You," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"). Jeff Bridges is okay, Lloyd Bridges is terrible, and Forest Whitaker would have walked away with the movie if Jones hadn't beaten him to it. (Speaking of Whitaker, this is his second big supporting role involving a run-in with the I.R.A.) It's not bad enough to be classified a total bomb, but relative to the hype, Blown Away is a dud.