A quintessential ’80s movie marooned on the shores of the ’90s, Fire Birds already has the antique feel of a period piece. That is probably a good thing: If this blatant Top Gun/Iron Eagle retread didn’t seem so sweetly old-fashioned, its celebration of war as a bloodless video game might be truly offensive. Fortunately, ”Fire Birds” exists solely as an excuse for its aerial combat scenes, staged by director David Green (”Buster”) with all the considerable high-tech flair at his disposal.
The story, as you might suspect, is wispy: Army helicopter pilots versus South American cocaine dealers, who are equipped with more state-of-the-art firepower than Darth Vader. And the characters are strictly by the numbers — Tommy Lee Jones as a crusty but lovable combat vet, Nicolas Cage and Sean Young as rival pilots who really, really love each other but can’t bring themselves to admit it.
So there’s not much drama here. In fact, when things aren’t airborne, there’s little to engage your attention besides generic CB macho dialogue and an obligatory Phil Collins love ballad. But the helicopter fight scenes, which are what you pay your money for, are spectacular, and the Arizona desert locations and stereo soundtrack are similarly impressive. So why carp about motivation or plausibility? The only sensible thing to do with a picture as intentionally unreal as Fire Birds is just to lie back, pump up the volume, and pretend that you’re playing Nintendo. C+