×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Afterburn

This story of a pilot's widow struggling to vindicate her husband's reputation and to expose the lethal design flaws of the jet fighter in which he was killed has a dramatic pace keyed more to Kitty Hawk than to a Top Gun school. Some wrenchingly effective scenes manage to elevate this telepic a few notches above the conventional "based on fact" telefilm of aggrieved citizens fighting the agents of corporate greed and callous government.

With:
Cast: Laura Dern, Robert Loggia, Vincent Spano, Michael Rooker, Welker White, Richard Jenkins, Andy Romano, Basil Wallace, Gary Basaraba, Dion Anderson, Kasi Lemmons, Daniel Benzali, Cassy Friel, Christopher John Fields, Lewis Dix Jr., Matthew Posey, David Warshofsky, Stephen Burleigh, Paul Perri, Ron Frazier, Pierre Epstein, Richard Fancy, Walter Addison, Peter Jason, Robert Balderson, Richard Cicetti, Ryan Cutrona, John Fountain, Marjorie Harris, Todd Jeffries, Jeffrey King, Kenton R. Lietzau, T.R. Marino, Michael Monks, Dr. John I. Moseley , Randal K. Quan, Jane Marla Robbins, Janet Sciales.

This story of a pilot’s widow struggling to vindicate her husband’s reputation and to expose the lethal design flaws of the jet fighter in which he was killed has a dramatic pace keyed more to Kitty Hawk than to a Top Gun school. Some wrenchingly effective scenes manage to elevate this telepic a few notches above the conventional “based on fact” telefilm of aggrieved citizens fighting the agents of corporate greed and callous government.

The first half of this drama establishes Ted Harduvel (Vincent Spano) as a dedicated, skilled fighter pilot and his wife, Janet (Laura Dern), as an edgy, slightly rebellious young woman who rebuffed the cliquish community of pilots and wives on the insular Air Force base where they were stationed.

Nearly halfway through the film, Ted craters his General Dynamics F-16 into a Korean mountainside. The Air Force attributes the crash to “pilot error,” but Janet refuses to accept that explanation.

She initiates an imaginative and dedicated campaign to redeem her husband’s reputation and lay blame for this and similar crashes on a faulty design and a cruel cover-up.

Given the liberties permitted under the “based on fact” license, it is hard to tell here which facts are on or off the “base.” But Mrs. Harduvel did succeed in erasing the “stain” of pilot error from the official record, though her other goals are still embroiled in the churn of liability litigation.

Dern creates a strong, nuanced individual who is at times highly admirable and sympathetic, though at other times annoyingly abrasive.

The transition from widow to fiery crusader is jarringly abrupt, and the film grows sluggish and remote as it enters the realm of evidence-gathering and lawyering.

Janet is also diminished by dramatic setups that leave the military (and by extension that omnipresent whipping boy, the military-industrial complex) as a far too easy, too simplistic target. For instance:

Commanding officer’s wife trying to placate Janet: “You’re an Air Force wife.”

Janet: “No, I’m an Air Force widow.”

Officer to Janet: “Even in times of peace, there’s always going to be an … acceptable number of (pilot) losses.”

Janet: “I’m sorry, Colonel, my loss is not acceptable.”

Enough, enough–we’ve gotten the point. Director Robert Markowitz, however, is very adroit at conveying, in subtle ways, a great deal of definition about his characters and their situations. And the staging of the F-16 crash by visual-effects expert Sam Nicholson is breathtakingly real.

Ultimately, and most damaging, there is no cliffhanger here. As defined, the villainous forces are so heavy-handed, so culpable, that one knows Janet will find the smoking gun. She will repudiate the military-industrial cabal, and Ted’s memory will be properly preserved.

This would have been a better film if the enemy had some credible personification, other than bumbling officers and sleazy lawyers.

Afterburn

(Sat. (30), 8-9:30 p.m., HBO)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by the Steve Tisch Co. Exec producer, Steve Tisch; producer, Paul Kurta; co-producer-writer, Elizabeth Chandler; director, Robert Markowitz.

Crew: Camera, Isidore Mankofsky; editor, Jerrold L. Ludwig; music, Stewart Copeland; production designer, Donald Light-Harris.

Cast: Cast: Laura Dern, Robert Loggia, Vincent Spano, Michael Rooker, Welker White, Richard Jenkins, Andy Romano, Basil Wallace, Gary Basaraba, Dion Anderson, Kasi Lemmons, Daniel Benzali, Cassy Friel, Christopher John Fields, Lewis Dix Jr., Matthew Posey, David Warshofsky, Stephen Burleigh, Paul Perri, Ron Frazier, Pierre Epstein, Richard Fancy, Walter Addison, Peter Jason, Robert Balderson, Richard Cicetti, Ryan Cutrona, John Fountain, Marjorie Harris, Todd Jeffries, Jeffrey King, Kenton R. Lietzau, T.R. Marino, Michael Monks, Dr. John I. Moseley , Randal K. Quan, Jane Marla Robbins, Janet Sciales.

More TV

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Signs of Solidarity and Strain Emerge as Week 2 of WGA-Talent Agency Standoff Begins

    Hundreds of WGA members rallied solidly behind their union last week as the industry grappled with uncertainties spurred by the sudden break between writers and their talent agency representatives. But as the standoff heads into its second week, signs of strain among some WGA members are beginning to emerge. Shalom Auslander, author and creator of [...]

  • Jon Snow Arya Stark Game of

    'Game of Thrones' Final Season Vegas Odds Reveal Wild Theories

    With “Game of Thrones” hype at an all-time high, Las Vegas may be raking in as much money as the Iron Bank. HBO’s fantasy masterpiece has seized the gambling world’s attention nearly as much as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. Fans spew countless theories on social media, such as which characters will be axed [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content