That Moment In Drop Zone (1994): A Liability is Handled

REVIEW: So there’s this genius nerdy gangly fellow locked up in prison with some highly developed hacking skills that needs a transfer to a more secure facility because some of the other inmates are getting stabby with him. It’s a job for the U.S. Marshals, so in come Terry and Pete Nessip (Yup, an anagram of Snipes!), brothers who have small talk in the ride over about things like blind dates and sex lives because . . . exposition!

We learn that the stabby thing is because our gawky inmate (named Earl Leedy) is a key material witness in a trial. Flash forward. Now they are on a 747 flying to the new prison and Leedy is excessively worried about three cats he befriended at the previous jail that for some reason are also along for the ride because . . . comedy! But hey! Isn’t that Gary Busey taking a seat on that plane? Yes it is. So he boards and–hold on a tick. Did he just find guns behind the tray table of the seat in front of him? Yes he did. Now I don’t want to get all concerned with the little things in film and be that guy who rags on every minor problem. A movie’s got to keep its story moving. I get that. But I feel I need to say this, and I’ll be as respectful to the art of film making as well as I can. Inhale. This scene is the single most unbelievably, lame-headed, insulting, ridiculous, idiotic, moronic, stupid, ninny-brained, cock-eyed, who-the-hell-let-this-happen moment in all of cinema. Exhale. Too much? Hear me out. And listen carefully. Terrorists are on the plane. They are seated right among the passengers. They are putting on bulletproof vests, parachutes, oxygen masks, goggles, and arming themselves with guns found in the seat-backs. I should repeat that. They are putting on bulletproof vests, parachutes, oxygen masks, goggles, and arming themselves with guns found in the seats. Nobody notices. Seriously. No one.

Fine, they take over the plane, kidnap Leedy, bite off one of his fingers, yes, you heard that right, blow a hole in the fuselage and jump out.  Oh, and Terry the brother gets sucked out and dies. He also gets blamed for over reacting and causing fourteen deaths because why not? And that bitten finger. Positive ID of Leedy in the wreckage. Clever baddies. But Pete’s not convinced, though no one believes his cockamamie theory about a prison break at 38,000 feet. (I said cockamamie.) But why should anyone believe him? Right? No branch of investigation would ever consider the testimony of an eyewitness. That’s just foolhardy. Blame it on the seasoned law enforcement officer instead. That’s some good police work. But it only gets worse. They implicate Pete, too. Might as well. So he surrenders his badge and gun and decides to take things into his own hands. He discovers that some SEALs (Military dudes, not aquatic mammals) did a rescue training jump from 28,000 feet and is told that if he’s interested in finding a guy who might be crazy enough to attempt what Pete thinks happened, they should go see some fella named Dominic Jagger. So he does, but all he finds is his rowdy ex-wife, Jessie, who runs a skydiving school . . . of course. She’s belligerent, sassy, sexy, and no fan of the law. But that doesn’t surprise you. She takes Pete up in her plane to give him an idea of what it would be like to drop from a jet airliner. And by that, I mean she literally drops him out of the plane. With no parachute. But that’s okay. She jumps after him and latches on for a tandem jump. Probably does that with all first-time jumpers. He pays her back with a punch her to the face. Guess that’s supposed to be funny.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Meanwhile, Leedy is held captive by some low-life’s who need him to hack into a high security building. The leader is Ty Moncrief (Gary Busey) and he’s also an ex-DEA agent with a vendetta.  The high security building is the DEA headquarters. He wants to steal the names of undercover agents and sell them to drug lords. He’s crazy like that. He offers Leedy freedom if follows them into the DEA building and hacks their mainframe, instantly proving that Leedy is the world’s worst hacker if he needs to be working on the same computer he is meant to be hacking. Are there no modems or telephones lines in the Drop Zone universe? Not important. TO get Leedy ready, he has him practice skydiving over and over, jumping from small planes and hacking into model computers. Moncrief is convinced his little caper is gonna be easy-peasy. Brainiac that he is, he keeps his entire plan, including a 3D computer model of the building, entry points, security cameras and, yes, incoming parachute trajectory paths to the roof, right on his desktop computer. Seems pretty sound. Personally, I store my private information via skywriting.

So there’s not much more to say. On a unwavering straight path of utter predictability, Pete makes friends with Jessie, learns to skydive and they thwart the criminal master-moron, Moncrief. The end. Directed by John Badham, who did the much better WarGames and Saturday Night Fever, Drop Zone is just too silly to be believed and though there are some good performances, especially by Snipes and the late Michael Jeter, who both have fun but are still convincing and should have been in a better movie, though poor Snipes just kinda had no luck as our friends at WTHH explain. Busey is in full-blown Busey mode, which is a huge distraction as it reduces him and his crew to buffoons, chirping and giggling like frat boys the entire time. One saving grace is Hans Zimmer’s score, which seems now rather familiar as he’s borrowed themes from this work a number of times, but it’s still rousing and pumped full of energy. The skydiving sequences are admittedly thrilling to watch, but the movie feels empty and soulless, more like an assembly line product than an experience.

That Moment In: Drop Zone

Scene Setup: In the beginning of the movie, during that wild prisoner escape at 38,000 ft., a little girl is knocked over and nearly sucked out of the bomb hole in the back of the plane. Screaming her little head off, she catches sight of one of the bad guys, having pulled off his goggles. For less than one second, she sees this (Although there was no big red circle when she was looking, I added that so readers could see the scar she would remember later.):


Off all the identifying marks on this fellow’s puss, it is a wee-bitty, barely noticeable scratch under his right eye that leaves the lasting impression. Fine. From this, after interviewing the so traumatized girl she can barely speak anymore, Pete discerns that it is Dominic Jagger, a reckless, but infamous skydiver everyone in the skydiving world seems to know. I could go on about this interview with the girl, who is in a public park with her mother and guarded by three, THREE Miami police detectives even though all branches of law enforcement investigating the incident on the plane are convinced the terrorists were killed on board and it is Terry and Pete who are to blame for setting off the explosion. So much so that Pete has been suspended and been told by his director that it is illegal for Pete to be conducting any investigation on his own so the three, THREE police officers watching Pete conduct an investigation on his own should probably have reported something. But wait, one does report Pete conducting an investigation on his own, but not to the authorities. No, he calls Moncrief (the lead baddie) because of course a cop is crooked, though he might just be stupid and not realize that Moncrief is no longer DEA. Either way. For less than one second, these are the police officers Pete sees: (Although there was no big red circle when he was looking, I added that so readers could see that–holy cow, is that Phil Collins?):


The Scene: (Time stamp 0:34:22)  While Phil Collins calls Moncrief and informs the gang leader that Pete just identified one of the henchmen, it just so happens that said henchman is preparing to make a another dive with the rest of the crew. They are practicing for their big heist at the DEA building. Moncrief realizes that he’s got a problem. One of his key players, and best friend, has been identified. This could be a real snag. Jagger is one of the sport’s most most recognized characters and to have him linked to the airplane incident would end any chance of stealing the list of DEA field agents he is after in this little caper. The real concern is that Jagger has been working tirelessly with Leedy, the computer hacker they kidnapped from the plane, tandem jumping over and over to get the timing right for the final jump. Leedy has been strapped to Jagger for jump after jump and they have been working out precisely how to work as a team to get out of the plane, on to the building and access the computers in a very short time frame. It’s vital to the success of the plan and losing either of these men would mean utter failure. Moncrief also wants to protect his friend and make sure that he––Okay, stop. I can’t lie anymore. Everything I just said is made up. Actually, Moncrief just kills Jagger. That’s his solution. Does he shoot him? No. Does he stab him? No. Does he strangle him? No. Does he poison him over a long period by dousing his meals with arsenic? No. Instead, in broad daylight, over a populated area, while skydiving in a cloudless open sky, with all his team members and any and all people on the ground watching, he latches on to Jagger’s parachute with his feet and steers him into a high voltage power station, frying him on a transformer. And not the Optimus Prime kind of transformer either, but the bad kind that bake your face. For less than one second, this is the transformer Jagger sees: (Although there was no big red circle when he was looking. I added that so readers could . . . oh, never mind.)


While up to this moment has been a real mixed bag of bad and awful, it was precisely here that I realized something very important, and no, not that it would have been better to turn off the movie and go back to streaming Vanilla Ice Goes Amish on Netflix like I should have, but rather this film is not the action thriller movie it has been marketed as, but instead, an expensive skydiving safety training video probably produced for executives at Paramount Pictures but mistakenly released to the public. There is no plot, but obviously the makers had a good sized budget and called in some favors from some actors on the payroll and brought them together to fill in and have some fun jumping out of planes. The entire movie is setup for extravagant skydiving adventures with lot of tips on how to avoid a number of dangerous and in some cases deadly situations. Number one being, don’t go skydiving with Gary Busey. Or fly in a plane with Gary Busey. Or pretty much anything with Gary Busey. Logic is treated like it might have some irreversibly damaging mental properties and therefore completely avoided throughout, with the focus aggressively centered on people flipping about in the air and floating to various exotic locations like swamps, streets, lakes, rooftops, and as mentioned, power lines.

In this moment, it’s all about Moncrief being a total psychopath, utterly un-invested (that’s totally a word?) in his crew or their well-being. Without considering any other option, he simply offs his partner and expects his gang to accept it, which they do. It’s so absurd, so out of nowhere, without any provocation or reason, that one wonders if the director just dreamt up the idea of crashing a skydiver into a transformer and  told the writers to make it happen. No, that would mean there were people actively working on a story, which clearly is not the case.

Either way, by the time Moncrief has steered Jagger into his fate, the viewer has either completely let go of any semblance of thought and decided to stick with it just to see how off his rocker Busey can get or switched back to Vanilla Ice and his hilarious adventures among the Amish. That’s definitely what I should have done.

It’s why when we talk movies, we roll our eyes through That Moment In . . . Drop Zone.



John Badham


Tony Griffin, Guy Manos


Wesley Snipes, Gary Busey, Yancy Butler