So far, our look back at the Summer of '82 has encompassed notable classics. This week's entry however, is not among them. Firefox, a vehicle for then-middle-aged dynamo Clint Eastwood, demonstrates what happens when a prevailing Hollywood trend is applied to the wrong material. For the first half of the movie, it tries to be a gritty Cold War spy thriller, until the second half pounds it senseless with an effects-heavy actioner a la Star Wars. Neither section works on its own, and while mashing them together lends the film a certain novelty, they're too boring to hold our interest for long.
As Mitchell Gant, traumatized Vietnam pilot who nonetheless remains the best there is, Eastwood does well enough. The government sends him on a mission to steal a scary new Soviet plane -- bristling with weapons, faster than anything in the air and invisible to radar – then fly it home to bask in the light of Reagan's America. Before he can do that, however, he has to skulk through the grimy streets of Moscow, hook up with the local dissidents, sneak onto the super-secret military base, beat the original pilot unconscious, and strap into the plane wearing the poor guy's jumpsuit.
This, as you might imagine, takes a great deal of time, which wouldn't be a problem if any of it were interesting. But Eastwood, who also serves as director, can't find anything compelling in the gritty tone he works so hard to create. Gant stumbles and stammers his way past multiple KGB agents: an effort to increase the suspense by reminding us that he's not a secret agent, but which ultimately breaks the hard-fought authenticity by letting him skate out of situations that would get James Bond pinched.
Speaking of authenticity, that goes straight out the window during the film's final third, when Gant finally gets in the plane and takes on the entire Soviet military (including the pilot he ganked). The energy picks up considerably, but as cool as they are, the sci-fi elements clash badly with everything we've seen so far. While we may be grateful for the excitement, we can't help but feel like it was ported in from an entirely different movie.
Indeed, it's a testament to Eastwood's star power that Firefox remains watchable at all. He serves as an ostensible unifier and though his character goes from traumatized to nervous to skeptical to ultimate bad-ass without any rhyme or reason, the actor commands the screen at every moment. The Cold War politics also feel more even-handed than similar films of the era. While Eastwood never hesitates to wave the Stars and Stripes, he portrays the Soviet adversaries as calculating and understandable rather than cartoonish caricatures.
Ultimately, however, Firefox remains too dull and pedestrian to generate much notice. As a science fiction film, it takes far too long to reach the pay-off; as an espionage thriller, it lacks the refinement to toy with our nerves; and as an Eastwood movie, it's notable only as one of the actor's few forays into semi-genre filmmaking. After 30 years, it lends the impression of a well-preserved relic: typical of its era and roughly competent, but otherwise utterly unremarkable. Every aspect of its construction can be found in better form elsewhere; even hopelessly 80s films have stronger champions than this one. It remains notable only for the figure at its center: a grizzled Hollywood war horse who gave this the same yeoman effort he gave most of his films. We salute his work ethic, while quietly noting that it produced far better works both before and after. Firefox, unfortunately, proved itself a mere footnote… both in that summer of masterpieces and in the career of its central creative force.