Downdraft (1996)

Rating:

Canada/Czechoslovakia. 1996.

Crew

Director – Michael Mazo, Screenplay – Christopher Hyde, Producers – Michael Mazo, Lloyd A. Simandl & Deborah Thompson, Photography – Danny Nowak, Music – Peter Allen, Special Effects – North American Pictures S.R.O., Special Effects Supervisors – Jiri Berger & Vladimir Jehlicha, Production Design/Visual Effects Design – Charles Wood. Production Company – North American Pictures/Minotaur Films

Cast

Vincent Spano (Colonel Jack Brenner), Kate Vernon (Alexa Belekenyev), John Novak (Miles Standish), Paul Koslo (General George Washington Devlin), Sandra P. Grant (Babe), John Pyper-Ferguson (Spike), William S. Taylor (Rudy), Sean Fuller (Hawkins), Michael Spelchta (Mikey Brenner)


Plot

Jack Brenner, a US colonel falsely incarcerated in order to cover up the death of an out-of-control general, is granted his freedom if he will assemble his old team of nonconformist experts and break into a military bunker where a scientist has taken over and is threatening to fire nuclear missiles on China and the former Soviet Union. He agrees. However, once inside the bunker, the mission is fraught by a killer cyborg hunting them, while above ground a general determines to do everything he can to ensure the secrets that the bunker holds are not discovered.


For a B-budget action film that one enters with little expectation, Downdraft proves surprisingly worthwhile. What does takes one aback about it is the extraordinary busyness of its plot that manages to juggle enough subplots to serve as single plots for half-a-dozen films. Not only does it feature a missile bunker with a rogue scientist threatening to fire nuclear warheads but also an about-to-explode hydrogen bomb booby-trap and an about-to-meltdown nuclear reactor. Also thrown in for the count are a killer android; an out-of-control AI that has melded with the scientist’s mind; and an out-of-control general determined to sabotage efforts on the surface. That the film manages to keep so many subplots up in the air without losing the thread or confusing the viewer is all credit to it. Naturally, not all of these get entirely satisfying airings but Downdraft manages to work them better than one might think.

Downdraft functions well within its modest budget – there is the feel it wants to open up with some more extravagant action sequences but still conducts itself respectably nevertheless. There is at least one dramatically intense sequence with the android shooting at the team in a descending elevator. A good degree of care and attention has also been given to making the hero and the film’s Dirty Dozen team of characters seem believable and well rounded.

Despite being set in the US and made by a company that call themselves North American Pictures, the film is actually a Canadian production that was shot in Czecheslovakia. North American Pictures also made Empire of Ash (1988) and sequels, the first Project: Shadowchaser (1992), Time Runner (1993), Dead Fire (1996), Escape Velocity (1998), Sleeping Dogs (1998) and Lethal Target (1999), as well as a number of erotic films.



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