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Rewind Regrets: Blown Away (1994)

A bomb squad officer faces his biggest challenge when an old friend wants payback.

Blown Away is a 1994 action/thriller about a madman on the loose in Boston, looking to use explosives to kill an old friend working for the police.

If ever there was an award for Most Obviously Generic movie title ever, this one would surely be in the running, one that is clearly aiming for a double meaning but let’s face it, is just kind of lazy. Either way, when this film released, it had huge potential with a great cast and a clever story. Unfortunately, it bombed in theaters, a word that surely was employed by a few critics at the time looking to cash in on the easy parallels. Still, I remember actually really enjoying it the one time seeing it. It has great action, a cool villain, some impressive visual effects, and, well, you get the idea. So I thought. Watching it again …

Let’s start with the story. It’s starts with Irish terrorist Ryan Gaerity (Tommy Lee Jones) breaking out of his castle-prison, making a homemade bomb out of the toilet, killing his unlucky cellmate and guard. What a way to go. Meanwhile, in Boston, Lt. Jimmy Dove (Jeff Bridges) has become one of the police department’s most respected members, a leader of the bomb squad now looking to retire and settle in as trainer. What no one knows though is that he is actually … dum dum da … Liam McGivney, a former member of a Northern Ireland terrorist organization who abandoned the cause decades earlier when he was working with Gaerity after Gaerity wanted to use a bomb that would kill innocent civilians. McGivney is a terrorist with a conscience. He stops Gaerity’s bomb but his actions killed his own girlfriend, Gaerity’s sister, and led to Gaerity’s arrest. So yes, there’s some bad blood. The only one in Boston who knows is Doves uncle Max (Lloyd Bridges).

Blown Away
Blown Away, 1994 © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

In the present day. Gaerity travels to Boston and hides out in an abandoned derelict casino ship in the harbor and takes to plotting his revenge against Dove (McGivney), whom he knows works for the police. He even gets himself a job as a janitor at the police station, able to learn more about his old pal, which leads him to find out Dove is now married to Kate (Suzy Amis), and they have a young daughter. Gaerity makes it his mission to put Dove to the test and make him suffer, using explosives about the city that threaten not just innocents, but his own family.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, who works primarily in television but was behind the modest film hits Predator 2 (1990) and Lost in Space (1998), Blown Away is not the film I remember. While it was never smart, it at least, I misremembered, was plausible. But, no, really, it’s not even close. The film revels in special effects, its chief ploy to zoom in tight on the mechanisms of the various intricate bombs in the story and watch as sparks and circuits ignite while detonators go off, leading to huge balls of fiery orange. Admittedly, some of it is cool to watch and can be exciting, but the physics and logic for much of it are so out of place, it just doesn’t make sense.

Blown Away
Blown Away, 1994 © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Each bomb, and there are many, is a kind of tricked out device that is triggered via a very specific set of circumstances, and if that feels a bit familiar it might be because you sat through the far better Keanu Reeves film Speed, which revolved around a bus that is rigged with a bomb that will go off if the speed drops below 50 miles an hours. While Speed was in theaters only a month before Blown Away, it sure seems that someone must have seen that script and thought, hey, we can do that, and more of it. Without a bus. Or Sandra Bullock.

Blown Away
Blown Away, 1994 © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

One bomb is connected to a computer that will go off if the typist stops typing (or the memory is used up). Another will explode if the headphones of a Sony Walkman are taken off. One is even rigged to the bomb squad robot in a scene that sees a truck flip that could have inspired Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight. Or not. All of these contraptions don’t make much sense, but of course, that’s not really the point. That bombs are incidental. What’s important is the tension they are meant to induce, but honestly, there isn’t much, with lots of slo-motion and contrived action that leave most of it sort of interesting to look at, but really silly to think about. Best not to think.

Yes, Bridges and Jones are great. Of course they are. Bridges has always done well as a man out of his element, and Jones is just, well, Jones, his impressive face and gold-standard sneering perfect for the part. The problem is the paper-thin story and the over-indulgence in ridiculous bomb devices, all of which are padded out to unreasonable ends, most especially a showdown on the aforementioned ship, booby trapped with a mind-boggling level of Rube-Goldbergian artistry that’s downright inconceivable.

Blown Away would be a whole different movie made today, if it could be at all given the political climate and public sensitivity toward terrorist bombing as such, but the film as it stands is not much more than a cluster of clichés and uninspired action. Which wire to cut …

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