The two premiered within days of one another, and here’s how things shook out, if you don’t recall: “Blue Thunder” lasted a mere three months; “Airwolf,” four entire seasons. Sometimes, it pays to be second out of the gate.
Now, Shout! Factory has resurrected the victor’s Bellisario-written and -directed pilot, “Airwolf: The Movie.” I’m guessing it played theatrically in other countries, because it contains multiple utterances of the F word, some surprising violence, and a couple of sexual situations (but minus the payoff of nudity). Either way, it’s a real Cold War relic, even if Libyan leader Gadhafi figures heavily into its plot.
Basically, it’s the origin story of the super-helicopter. Oops, did they hear me say that? Because as Eugene Roche’s bagel-craving Congressman sternly gets corrected in the opening scene, “It’s not a goddamn helicopter, senator! It’s Airwolf!” Roche rewords, “It’s an overgrown beanie with a propellor,” and he’s corrected once more: “ a Mach-1 Plus chopper that can kick butt.”
In other words, America, eff yeah!
Before long, sad Vietnam vet Jan-Michael Vincent is coerced to stop playing musical instruments lakeside and retrieve the damn thing when it’s copter-napped to the Middle East, and become its pilot. Ernest Borgnine is along for the ride and comic relief. Belinda Bauer (“Timerider”) appears as someone J-M V calls a “whore,” then beds anyway.
I hadn’t caught many “Airwolf” eps as a kid, so I didn’t expect the telefilm to be so grim and dark. But it’s that in a way that is not enjoyable; it feels icky, racist, sexist and packed with the same kind of jingoism that later served Bellisario well for umpteen seasons of “JAG.”
The DVD’s lone extra is a 15-minute retrospective with Borgnine recalling as much as he can, from how he got the gig (guesting on “Magnum, P.I.”) to how people at air shows just went ape-shit over the Airwolf. —Rod Lott