Flight of the Intruder sounds like yet another jingoistic neo-Top Gun potboiler, but, in fact, this John Milius picture is neither as inept nor as mindlessly gung ho as the recent Fire Birds or Navy SEALs. Set mostly on an aircraft carrier during the last phase of the Vietnam War, it’s about a cocky young bomber pilot (Brad Johnson) struggling to get over his buddy’s death in combat. He’s torn between mourning and wanting some ”payback,” and when Cole (Willem Dafoe), a fearless flier on his third tour of duty, is assigned to the carrier, the two men team up for an unauthorized bombing mission over Hanoi. Their little adventure leads them to the brink of a court-martial. But then it turns out that they simply anticipated President Nixon’s escalation of the war. Suddenly, they’re heroes — though they still have another mission to fly, and it’s their deadliest one yet.
Milius isn’t using Vietnam to make any sort of ideological statement. He’s more concerned with exploring the emotions of fear, courage, mourning. Flight of the Intruder is slow and not very exciting. Though based on a novel by Stephen Coonts, it appears to be drawn less from the experience of war than from other war movies (particularly John Ford’s elegiac They Were Expendable). Still, for a Milius picture, there’s some real feeling in it. The aerial-combat footage, much of it set at night, is visually distinctive (though technically spotty), and Dafoe has a good time playing Cole as a flaky daredevil. Brad Johnson, on the other hand, looks (and acts) like a blander Tom Berenger. C+