By Bret Fetzer
Hip spy shows with covert agencies within agencies--like Alias
and 24--are missing only one thing: A super-duper armor-plated
helicopter with "nuclear-tipped shrike missiles." In the action
series Airwolf, a mysterious national security agency called the
Firm constructs a "Mach-one-plus chopper that can kick butt,"
only to have it stolen by the nefarious scientist who designed it (David
Hemmings, Blowup, Barbarella).
Desperate, the Firm turns to Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael Vincent),
a soulful, cello-playing, art-loving, eagle-watching, guilt-ridden master
pilot. Hawke refuses to help unless the Firm searches for his brother, who
went MIA in 'Nam. Of course, he succeeds in his mission, but until the
Firm fulfills its side of the bargain, he keeps the chopper--but also
agrees to fly covert missions in exchange for tips about government
efforts to retrieve Airwolf.
This elaborate setup proves surprisingly durable. The combat scenes in Airwolf
are clumsily edited, but the scripts--though firmly in the cheesy
techno-thriller vein of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy--are pleasantly
zippy. While Vincent may have gone on to a straight-to-video career
(appearing in such sterling titles as Hidden Obsession, Indecent
Behavior, and Animal Instincts), he’s a persuasive and sexy
pilot; he's got the same kind of rangy, athletic physicality that makes
Kevin Costner convincing as an athlete.
Add to this mix the ever-zesty Ernest Borgnine (Marty, The
Wild Bunch) and it's clear why Airwolf outlived the similar
series Blue Thunder. Most episodes feature international
skullduggery with foreign agents trying to steal Airwolf and sell it to
the Soviets or Libya, but there are enough clever details to keep you from
objecting to the larger absurdity of the all-powerful helicopter. Guest
stars include Shannen Doherty (Beverly Hills 90210) and David
Carradine (Kill Bill). It's too bad Hemmings didn't become a
regular; his sadistic, lecherous traitor gave the two-hour pilot some real