Countdown

May 1998



Video Tape Box Here this month is one of my favorite movies for some odd reason.  I'm talking about Capricorn One, the 1978 movie that some people say looks like a TV movie (maybe because two of the stars are billed with that "special guest star" bit).  Many people say this is a sucky film but when you get past the seventies clothes and dialogue, it is quite timeless in its possibilities.  The Corel All Movie Guide gives it 3 ½ stars even though there are a lot of hack actors in it, and I agree with that call.
    It was directed by Peter Hyams, the dude who directed Running Scared, the cool flick with Charles Bronson Telefon and of course Outland and the Presidio, both starring the man, Sean Connery.  The two top billed characters are immensely sucky actors.  First you got Elliott Gould, whose only good performance was in M*A*S*H and considering that the film was good because it was an ensemble cast, his performance isn't that great.  The other no talent hack is James Brolin, the dude who is dating the most overrated singer in the world, Barbara Streisand.  Did you know he does commercials for AAMCO.  Pretty sad huh.  But wait, it gets better (or worse).
    The Juice! O.J. Simpson is in this film.  Now I don't give a crap about the bloody glove and all that junk.  He was in this film, and if you weren't aware of it he was also in the Towering Inferno.  In addition to that bonus, you got Hal Holbrook, who played the crooked Lt. Briggs in Magnum Forge and gave an outstanding performance as Father Malone in John Carpenters The Fog.  Also you can't forget Telly Savalas, whose role in Kelly's Heroes is the only thing that keeps me from wanting to have him killed.
    In the chick category, there are two.  One is Karen Black, the chick who is tight with Elliot Gould's character and I mention her only because she was in the remake of Invaders From Mars as well as Airport 75.  The other chick is Brenda Vacarro, you know the chick who does those tampon commercials.  Oh and she was in Airport 77.
The Crew  So lets get down to it.
    We start at Cape Canaveral where they are preparing to launch the first manned mission to mars.  We get the gratuitous scene where the launch pad guy gives the three astronauts a bible and they trade a few witty remarks.  Then we cut to a scene in the viewing stands where there is some political sniping between the Vice President and some Congressman who is with a woman other than his wife.  But with a little over 5 minutes left before launch, some suit hustles them out of the capsule and into a helicopter, mission control unaware.  But the countdown continues.  What the hell is up?
    Then they are whisked away in a Lear jet and the rocket launches  . . . and here's the sinker.  There are voices responding from the capsule as if people were inside.  A hoax!  Why would NASA do this?  The launch went smoothly, no Challenger action.  And what the hell is the guy who played Rossi on Lou Grant doing at a console?
Talking About The Plan One of the things I like about this movie is the mission status chatter that takes place while other actions are going on.  Nice touch to add to the feel that the whole thing is a sham.  Any way, our three astronauts land at an abandoned airfield, but on the inside it's shiny and modern.  In walks Hal Holbrook, the NASA chairman.  He gives them the speech about the good times and the glory days, and that how now people bitch about missing reruns because of launches.  Ironically the only reason so many people saw the Challenger explosion while it happened was because they had a civilian teach there to jack up the ratings.  Anything to sell more Pepsi. Then he goes on about the cost, etcetera, etcetera. And that another screw-up in the program, would mean the end of it all. This flick is obviously loosely based on the urban legend that the original moon landing was a hoax. The methods of faking the landing are similar: a sound stage in the middle of a desert with a realistic dust-and-rock landscape, a mock landing module, and filming the astronauts in slow motion to simulate lesser gravity
    Guess what, they had a screw-up and the life support system on the capsule wouldn't have kept the astronauts alive.  So they cooked up a plan to fake it all, including a fake Martian landscape and capsule.  The gimmick is to pretend they did it so the program doesn't get canceled, if they cooperate.  Some more morality yapping ensues, but this is integral to developing the motivations of the characters.  Brolin immediately is against it because of his higher moral standards.  They are going to bail until Hal threatens their families.  That has to be the way because no American would sell out his moral values to keep his job . . . nah.
One Small Step For Video Editing Cut to a couple days later where Elliot Gould, the reporter who is trying to pick up on this chick (Karen Black).  Then we meet Brenda Vacarro, Brubaker's wife.  You know, the more I look at her, the more she reminds me of a California Pitted Prune®.  Oh and did I mention that the dude who played Rossi has found some discrepancies in the telemetry and shows it to his supervisor.  Then they reach the point where they fake the landing on audio, and Rossi is still sniffing the telemetry problem.  This time he reports it to Hal Holbrook, I'm telling you, this dude is a dead puppy.  Then we see the fake EVA scene including this long winded speech from the "president", and did Boomhaur ever call it right.
    A strange coincidence that Elliot Gould happens to know the telemetry dude and while they are playing pool, he spills that he suspects something is wrong.  At the warehouse, the astronauts debate weather they can live with their acts.  Hey idiots, they threatened your families, I think you can live with it.  Looks like they are wanting to bolt.  Then they throw them a bone/threat by staging this long distance space call.  To be blunt, this is the directors attempt to add some content to the characters.  Brubaker plays secret word games with his wife and things get fishier. Looks Like Ya Got Some Water In Your CarburatorOh and it is obvious that the government has put the zap on the telemetry dude, and Elliot Gould is on the trail.  He nearly dies in one of those "they tampered with the brakes and he can't stop" scenes.  Sad part is that it is so blatant that they simply sped up the camera.  Man, pissed off scientists can play hardball when their funding is threatened.  The reporter survives but his polyester suit is ruined.
    Now we come to the part of the movie that is not clear in its intention.  The astronauts are being flown to the recovery site, as planned, but the heat shield on the re-entry vehicle breaks and the end result is if the astronauts were in the capsule, they would be dead on splash down.  Now they do not say weather it is planned or not.  I tend to go with the theory that it wasn't planned because Hal Holbrook looks sincerely surprised by this and really distraught over his next course of action.
    Yep you guessed it, the astronauts must die.  The same ending I was hoping for in that flick Apollo 13.
    So its back to the desert warehouse.  The astronauts suspect something went wrong and assume that they are dead and that their lives aren't worth a shit. Banzai Baby!Now granted James Brolin's life was never worth a shit anyway, but this is in the time before the Juice became a murderer beyond murdering lines.  So they escape and steal the Lear jet.  This should be the end of the movie but the tape says 123 minutes so relax, and so comes plot convenience theater in the form of the plane being out of fuel.  We're in for some dead men on the run in the desert footage because they decided to split up.  Within 20 minutes of escaping, Brubaker is already tearing his clothes up and disguising himself as a Japanese Kamikaze pilot.
    Meanwhile the reporter is still sleuthing and sees something odd from the "talk to the wives" footage.  He goes to Brenda Vacarro who spends her time trying to teach her seven or eight year old child how to read stories that a Kindergartner could read.  Then he goes to the place Brubaker vacationed and someone shoots at him, unfortunately they miss.  The astronauts are being chased by two Bell Jet Rangers with rocket pods strapped to them, you know, the kind of helicopter that was Airwolf fodder.  Brubaker eludes them by hiding under the dirt but the dumb ass loses his gun.
Tastes Like Chicken OJ is the first to get killed, and they don't even try for the "Jim Brown running for his life" bit like in the Dirty Dozen.  Kind of a let down if you ask me.  The reporter is back asking questions and now suspects that the whole deal is a hoax.  Then Willis (Sam Waterston) gets smoked.  This couldn't have come soon enough because he was always telling stupid jokes.  I wanted to see him shot before the even escaped.  Brubaker kills a snake with a rock and has to eat it.  Mmmm.  The reporter gets arrested on a trumped up charge, then fired so he takes the chicks car and heads for an abandoned Air Force base on a hunch.  He finds the warehouse and a necklace once worn by Brubaker.  He's not such an idiot after all.  So he charters a plane from a crop duster owned by Telly Savalas, so maybe he is an idiot.  We have to sit through an annoying bartering session.  Soon, they are off, the reporter assuming that Brubaker is on the run in the desert.
By A Wing And A Prayer Brubaker finds a closed gas station and tries to make a call home, but his wife and family are on their way to the state funeral.  The plane spots the helicopters who are heading for the gas station, and they follow as well.  In the only action scene in the entire film, one pilot gets his ass whooped by Brubaker with a tire iron and then makes a mad dash for the crop dusting plane.  Stand by for an aerial chase sequence.  A poorly shot aerial sequence with some of the oldest "they have guns and we don't" gimmicks ever thought of being used.  The chase culminates in the old "empty the crop dusting tanks so the pilots slam into the mountain" gag.  Ironic that when the helicopters impact the mountain, the molecular structure of the material used to build them changes from steel and fiberglass to wood . . . even the rotors.  It was a really long chase for little gain.
    And then the movie is over.
    Well almost.  It ends 2 minutes and 53 seconds after the helicopters are destroyed with Brubaker interrupting his own funeral held by the President . . . and like 30 seconds of that time is shot in slow motion.  There is absolutely no attempt to address the fall-out of this whole affair.  I felt more ripped off than I did at the end of Clear and Present Danger.  In the end however, it is not a bad film to check out, if not to see OJ in one of his better roles.  I mean its better than anything starring Julia Roberts of Leonardo DiCaprio.


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