Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. The summer movie season is upon us, which means it’s time for a semi-annual tradition: singing the praises of the most unloved, underperforming, or simply forgotten summer blockbusters.
Connoisseurs of pulpy, earnest, slightly cheesy would-be blockbuster thrillers from the ’90s might feel a twinge of pity toward Blown Away, if they even remember it. This taunting-mad-bomber thriller, pitting an Irish ex-terrorist gone straight and rechristened Jimmy Dove (Jeff Bridges) against his former compatriot Ryan Gaerity (Tommy Lee Jones) on the streets of Boston, arrived in multiplexes on a release date that probably seemed savvy at one point: July 1, 1994, just in time for the lucrative, fireworks-friendly July 4th holiday. Unfortunately, this date also happened to be a mere three weeks after the extremely successful release of Speed, a taunting-mad-bomber thriller that streamlined the art of the Die Hard knockoff into a sleek, relentless joyride. Ultimately, Blown Away limped to roughly a quarter of Speed’s domestic gross and a far lower percentage of that movie’s post-theatrical fame.
But is there not room for two different taunting-mad-bomber thrillers from 1994? Blown Away is a far more traditional entry in the subgenre, but because that subgenre is now nearly extinct, its old-fashioned pleasures pop. Both Bridges and Jones get to chew scenery as old friends now playing cat-and-mouse; though Bridges is supposed to be the haunted good guy and Jones the vengeful baddie, they’re both allowed moments of zaniness. In the opening sequence, Dove cracks wise during a sweaty, suspenseful dismantling of a bomb; elsewhere, Gaerity dons a plethora of disguises and, in a hilariously shameless Irish stereotype, rocks out to The Joshua Tree in his bomb lab.
Jones may not speak in the most accurate Irish accent ever heard, but his voice is capable of such musicality that his approximation of an Irish lilt is still a lot of fun—as is the pointlessly Rube Goldbergian inventiveness of his character’s bomb triggers. Also consider: Bombs cause explosions. The advent of widespread computer effects, which began just a few years before Blown Away was released, has meant that almost any mid-budget-or-greater movie can access resources that will produce the illusion of a gigantic kaboom. But Blown Away uses a lot of practical effects work for its spectacle including a climactic moment that set a record at the time for the largest onscreen explosion in history and broke 8,000 windows in East Boston in the process.
There’s no real need, of course, to watch a potboiler about Irishmen chasing each other around Boston just to goggle at enormous fireballs and plumes of smoke. This was true even in 1994, as audiences flocked to Speed, a zippier and less sentimental thrill-delivery system. But director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2) works with the kind of baseline craftsmanship that, nearly 25 years later, feels almost classical. That combined with the starpower of Bridges and Jones and the firepower of all those detonations gives a summer also-ran like Blown Away a nostalgic glow.
Availability: Blown Away is available to rent on Amazon Instant. It can also be obtained on DVD or Blu-ray from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library.