Charlie Sheen has tried the big-screen thrill scene before — anyone recall "The Rookie," "Navy SEALS" or, earlier this year, "The Chase"?
Each of those pictures was, to one degree or another, an attempt to put Sheen over as an action-comedy star in the Bruce Willis vein — or, since "Speed," perhaps we should say, in the Keanu Reeves vein.
"Terminal Velocity" is Sheen's latest lame effort in that direction. It also reaches for some Hitch-cock-ian undertones, as Sheen becomes an innocent man on the run while trying to clear himself — and he even becomes mixed up with spies. Well, ex-spies.
But the plot is so outrageous, the dialogue so self-consciously hip and the violence so mean-spirited that "Terminal Velocity" is instead just unpleasant.
There are some eye-popping stunts, however — and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the stunts came first, with the story later built around them.
Sheen, using that whispery voice to deliver smart aleck one-liners, plays the usual chip-on-his-shoulder wise guy. In this case he's a hot-dogging skydiver who breaks the rules.
As the film opens, he is free-falling in restricted airspace — downtown Phoenix airspace. And when his chute goes up, Sheen steers himself between high-rise buildings, eventually landing on a small platform in a park. Wearing a vulgar outfit, he apparently thinks he's supposed to be putting on a show for a swinging single's birthday party. The party, as it turns out, is for a little girl. He is, naturally, chagrined. Then he's arrested.
Believe it or not, the film goes downhill from there.
Sheen is also a skydiving instructor, and later in the day he gets a new student (Nastassja Kinski) who seems nervous but insists that she be given an immediate crash course. Crash course is right. Sheen takes her up, leaves her for a moment and when he turns around, it appears she has jumped on her own. Naturally, she hits the ground without pulling her rip cord.
Sheen briefly mourns her loss, then, figuring that something is fishy, he discovers that Kinski is actually alive. It seems she's a former KGB agent (or, as Sheen says, "the KG-used-to-be") and is involved in a complicated plot about renegade former KGB agents ("the Russian Mafia," Kinski calls them) who are plotting to steal gold bars intended to help starving Russian peasants.
Don't think about it too much — it really doesn't matter. This movie isn't about story or character. It's about Sheen's obnoxiousness and the film's outrageous stunts. An example of the former: Referring to the woman whose body hit the ground instead of Kinski's, Sheen explains in his own sensitive way that she could not be identified by dental records because "her teeth are Chiclets." As for the latter, the ridiculous climax has Sheen rescuing Kinski from the trunk of a car — which has fallen from an airplane!
I know, I know — you're supposed to turn off your brain and just go with movies like this. And sometimes that's possible. But when they are as idiotic as "Terminal Velocity," it only serves to make slick productions like "Time-cop" seem better.
As for Sheen, his quips are so bad — and so bizarre — that you have to wonder if he realizes this is not another "Hot Shots!" sequel. "Do I look like a brain donor?" he asks at one point. Not necessarily, but if he keeps taking scripts like this one, maybe he should consider it.
Needless to say, Bruce Willis (and Keanu Reeves, for that matter) needn't worry that their action-hero crowns are in jeopardy.
"Terminal Velocity" is rated PG-13 for considerable violence, profanity and vulgarity.