Desert Thunder (1999)

Daniel Baldwin stars in Jim Wynorski's action packed if poorly scripted Top Gun knock-off. Hollywood DVD UK R0 DVD.

The Film

Under their President's orders, Iraqi forces are preparing weapons of mass destruction to attack a European city. Lee Miller (Daniel Baldwin) is brought back into the Air Force to lead an elite undercover team in a top secret Air Force mission against the missile site; wanting to remain off the radar, they hire in fired pilots along with Hashim, a defector who provided vital information about the target. Initially in conflict with each other, the team has to be brought together and trained for this vital mission but when the Iraqis discover what is going on, they arrange an attack to wipe out the team at their base...

A low budget Top Gun (1986) knock-off from the Roger Corman school is never going to boast the most elaborate or nuanced of plots, but even allowing for budgetary limitations and the fact that Desert Thunder never bills itself as a technically accurate film, the plot holes are just overwhelming. The entire construct of the story never really makes sense - we are supposed to believe that a rag-tag bunch of discharged and out-of-practice pilots (one of whom apparently shot down several friendly aircraft without explanation) and an Iraqi defector (whose flying experience is never discussed) are the best people to lead a highly dangerous and sensitive mission. There is some attempt to explain that since the pilots were not active military they could avoid tainting the US Government if caught - although it wouldn't explain why they were flying branded US Military jets and wearing military uniforms.

There are a couple of straight forward training scenes which just consist of low flying, but the majority of the film is just the group goofing around and getting into fights. Fortunately the pacing and characterisation (of the heavily stereotypical characters, including the woman who has the be the source of most of the conflict) are just enough to keep the film moving here and although not much happens, the film at least does not drag. The attack on the base, which is supposed to be in the US (and which apparently has no security, despite being home to a squadron of fully armed F-16s) just comes across as a gratuitous action sequence to keep the film moving (a helicopter/biplane chase scene is admittedly a highlight, although it does go on a little too long) and would have been far more believable were the base located in the Middle East. The film builds to the inevitable climax but after apparently just casually flying from America to Iraq without stopping, none of the discussed training comes into use at all in the surprisingly straight forward finale and clichéd ending.

Jim Wynorski is definitely a director who can wring the most out of a small budget, while the dialogue scenes are very straight forward and the airbase sets look pretty impoverished, the flying scenes are superb and clearly specially filmed rather than being culled stock footage. The helicopter chase scene looks tremendous and an attack on an airbase in the film's climax is superbly done, with some excellently over-the-top explosions that would appease even Michael Bay's arsonistic tendencies.

Top billed is Daniel Baldwin who also starred in Wynorski's earlier Pandora Project (1998) and gives a fair performance if a rather uninterested one. Marc Casabani does the best job as the defector, while the rest of the cast are passable if unremarkable.

Jim Wynorski does some great work here, giving this Top Gun rip-off a genuinely big budget feel in the flying scenes, but he is let down by a horrible script that although managing to keep the film moving and throwing in some gratuitous action, is never able to shake-off the fact that the storyline just does not make sense - modern air combat is just not a suitable setting for a Dirty Dozen type 'gang of rogues' storyline and it never feels believable. Of interest for the flying scenes, but otherwise one to skip.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Daniel Baldwin - one of the Baldwin brothers, he starred in John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)
Directed by anyone interesting? Jim Wynorski - having worked with Roger Corman for several years, he has a massive number of directing and producing credits, mainly in softcore DTV and TV movies including Cheerleader Massacre (2003)
Any gore or violence ? Some blood.
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Of interest to DTV action fans for its explosive action scenes, the dull plot makes it impossible to actually recommend.

Visuals Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
Picture quality is average for this sort of production, contrast slightly too high, but detail is okay.
Shot for video premiere so the academy ratio is correct.
Audio English stereo - sounds okay although on the quiet side.
Subtitles None
Extras The disc includes:
  • Trailer
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? On DVD in the US from New Horizons
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Titles and credits are in English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 16th November 2014.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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