Bumpy Flight: Storm Catcher (1999)

Matty examines a shoddy action potboiler that, for all its flaws, at least kept its hugely talented director working.

Among the worst movies produced by Phoenician Entertainment — the DTV subdivision of Ashok Amritraj, Andrew Stevens, and Elie Samaha’s ill-fated Franchise Pictures — STORM CATCHER is saddled with crap characters and a slack, uninvolving story. The plot sees Phoenician contract player Dolph Lundgren submitting a comatose turn as a fighter pilot forced to clear his name and, of course, save the world when a crooked general (Robert Miano — an actor with the unique distinction of being a regular in the output of Norman Thaddeus Vane, Jag Mundhra, Charles T. Kanganis, and Chad Ferrin) frames him by stealing the eponymous hi-tech jet.

Disposable junk.   

Still, for fans of Anthony Hickox — director of cult horror classics Waxwork (1988) and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), and VHS-era goodies Full Eclipse (1993), Payback (1995) and Invasion of Privacy (1996) — this lame military hardware programmer has a few points of note.

Following the disastrous reception of botched comic book adap Prince Valiant (1997), Hickox struggled to find steady employment. Scraps were offered in the form of additional shooting on Trimark’s Carnival of Souls (1998) and a quick TV assignment (a season one episode of Storm Catcher adjacent military drama, Pensacola: Wings of Gold), but, by and large, ‘97 and ‘98 were typified by projects either failing to launch or, in the case of sci-fi western Martian Law (1998) — a backdoor pilot that wasn’t even broadcast let alone taken to series — falling apart. A common sight amidst the L.A. party scene of the period, Hickox became friendly with Samaha and happily teamed with the Phoenician bigwig when the nightclub magnate-cum-mogul (Samaha owned The Roxbury) asked if he’d tackle the $1.2million Storm Catcher when original helmer John Putch was drafted to another film.    

Though Hickox’s relationship with Phoenician soured during his and Lundgren’s second and final team-up, kinky serial killer thriller Jill Rips (2000), it was cordial enough throughout Storm Catcher to allow experimentation. While he would, ultimately, be at the mercy of Lundgren and the studio in terms of who had final say over the film’s structure and pace, Storm Catcher is alleviated by moments of aesthetic dynamism. Completely aware that the script is garbage, Hickox atones by going all in with the visual pyrotechnics — well, as much as he can given the resources at his disposal (including, but not limited to, stock footage plundered from Top Gun (1986)). Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the bombast Hickox supplies improved his standing with other millennial B-peddlers. In Storm Catcher’s wake, Hickox was recruited by various companies and producers to shepherd such superior, action-oriented fare as The Contaminated Man (2000), Last Run (2001) and Federal Protection (2002) before returning to horror in 2008 with the flawed but charismatic Knife Edge.

Indeed, it’s the nuts and bolts of Storm Catcher, the hows and whys of Hickox’s choices, that intrigues. Lensed in October 1998, Storm Catcher premiered on HBO on 10th September 1999. Released on U.S. home video by Columbia-TriStar on 4th January 2000, the film’s DVD was accompanied by a candid director’s commentary that, alongside Hickox’s narration for the aforementioned Jill Rips, is an essential listen for anyone fascinated by the pragmatics of low-budget movie production. It doesn’t make Storm Catcher itself any more palatable — but it certainly makes it a more revealing experience.

USA ● 1999 ● Action ● 95mins

Dolph Lundgren, Robert Miano ● Dir. Anthony Hickox (as ‘Tony Hickox’)Wri. Ed Masterson & Bill Gucwa

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