Black Thunder (1998)

Former piloting mentor turned traitorous bad guy Ratcher (Richard Norton) yells at Vince Connors (Michael Dudikoff) during their climatic dog fight “I’ll out fly you in a school bus!” provoking a chuckle at the thought of the Australian kickboxing movie icon flying around the sky in a big bright yellow bus doing loops and barrel rolls while the Dude looks on in stupefied disbelief.

None of that happened of course and the Dude ends up getting behind Ratcher and executing a move so that one of Ratcher’s own heat seeking missiles blows up him and his school bus fantasy, but it was surely the most memorable moment of a movie that was so generic, it was easily sort of remade as an equally generic Steven Seagal film, Flight of Fury.

Black Thunder is unfortunately one of those movies that delivers exactly what it promises. A fancy new plane is stolen by Richrad Norton (Kick Fighter, Deathfight) and his old protege Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja, Avenging Force) is sent to Libya to get it back. And that is precisely what happens. There are no plot twists, no surprises, not even any weird or unintentionally funny moments. There is a lot of footage of planes zooming around and frequent cutaways back to “Mission Control” so that we can see military guys in charge alternately worry about their plane and call the aircraft carrier to order some carpet bombing should the Dude fail in his mission.

But of course the Dude isn’t going to fail! He’s the best there is and is such a stand up guy that even if he hates the partner he’s been assigned, (“He’s not a pilot, he’s a skydiver!”), he invades the terrorist stronghold to rescue this guy because he’d rather die doing the right thing then live with doing the wrong thing! At least that’s what he tells the sexy native girl who helps him out. And hell, every American male knows that that is exactly what sexy native girls love to hear from American hero studs!

The Dude though means it! While the action in the sky with the fighter jets is more an ode to someone’s ability to edit and dub jet sounds into something approaching coherence, the action on the ground is what real men are here to see. It’s the Dude beating guys up, shooting them, attacking the terrorist base holding the stolen plane (the titular Black Thunder) on a motorcyle and chucking grenades here and there causing guys to go flying through the air. In fact, they were getting blown up so much, I could have sworn I saw the same guys get blown up by the same jeeep more than once!

But what is so hotsy-totsy about Black Thunder? Laser weapons? Real time satellite communication? Jumbo cup holders? All are surely on the military’s wishlist, but the Black Thunder has all that beat with Active Stealth!

You know what other vessels have Active Stealth? Romulan Warbirds and Klingon Birds of Prey! That’s right, we’re talking freaking cloaking device! The country who has that could rule the whole world! Just like how the Romulans and Klingons ruled the whole universe, except for all the parts they didn’t!

The idea that the military invented something it couldn’t really control or shut down when it needed to is such an obvious plot hole that the military guys felt compelled to acknowledge it once it became clear the plane was stolen. They didn’t explain or justify it though, only saying, “yeah, yeah I know” when it was pointed out.

The plane cannot go Active Stealth all the time though so the Dude is able to track it to Libya once it drops its cloaking device. Ratcher flies it there after ridiculously faking his own death in a training accident and then coming back the same day to kill the real pilot and take his place with one of those Mission Impossible-style masks that look exactly like the guy he just killed.

Terrorists in Libya are going to use Black Thunder to drop chemical weapon laced bombs on the West and Ratchet is going to get a bunch of money for his trouble. The Dude is mildly outraged by all this and refuses Ratchet’s offer for a partnership (Doing what? There’s no more Active Stealth planes to steal!) during their aerial face off.

As blandly inoffensive as Black Thunder is, it is outrageous on at least one level. How do you have Richard Norton and Michael Dudikoff in a movie and not have them square off in a kicking and punching frenzy, preferably on the wing of Black Thunder? In fact, the Dude barely used his kung fu on anyone, while Norton didn’t do anything but shoot people! It’s like having two thoroughbred race horses giving pony rides to little brats at birthday parties! The two would team up with much better results in the entertaining Strategic Command.

© 2017 MonsterHunter

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