A movie that exists for the sole purpose of showcasing helicopter acrobatics, Blue Thunder provides only a bit of fun as it plunders through the usual macho-cliches and government conspiracy puddles.
In the skies of Los Angeles, a police unit uses helicopters to support ground officers and help keep the peace. Veteran pilot Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is the local maverick, capable of exceptional flying tricks but haunted by his combat experiences flying in Vietnam. A sinister new chopper is brought in for testing: unlike the regular police helicopters, Blue Thunder is tricked out with a massive amount of weapons, technology and armor.
Murphy's old adversary, the slimy Colonel Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), seems keen to bring the military-style Blue Thunder into police service, and soon their are hints at a conspiracy to manufacture civil strife in order to justify pushing the heavy-handed chopper into service. After his partner (Daniel Stern) is killed, Murphy gets help from his girlfriend (Candy Clark) and takes matters into his own hands, stealing Blue Thunder, surviving an encounter with two F-16 fighter jets, and engaging Cochrane in a climactic helicopter battle that includes destroying several Los Angeles high rises.
Director John Badham chooses efficiency over style, and is a lot more interested in the machinery than the people. The storyline of Blue Thunder is silly, juvenile, and hopelessly stupid, with performances to match from cast members who all seem to be vying for career-worst awards, including the unfortunate Warren Oates in one of his last roles as Murphy's long suffering Captain.
But all that is almost besides the point. The film is all about arousal by technology, and in 1983, the gizmos packed into Blue Thunder classified the film as high-tech and futuristic. It is both scary and revealing that what passed as cutting-edge in the early 1980's looks clumsy and obsolete to war-weary modern eyes, but that does not make Blue Thunder any less nonsensical as a movie.
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