The pyrotechnics are the stars of “Blown Away,” an overly complex, muddled thriller of politics and revenge. In need of some dynamite to dislodge an often unfathomable story, the film is just too cool and cynical. Die-hard action seekers may be drawn into its technical bag of tricks, but those in search of a gripping, emotional genre pic will be disappointed. That spells bad news in the current, competitive marketplace, so business will be fast and commercially undistinguished.
The adversaries are Jimmy Dove (Jeff Bridges), a veteran of Boston’s Bomb Squad, and Ryan Gaerity (Tommy Lee Jones), a mad, Irish explosives expert recently escaped from a security lockup in Northern Ireland. Gaerity has an old bone to pick with Dove that — although masked in both men’s dark past — is pretty easy to decipher.
As a young man, Jimmy (then known as Liam) was trained by the other man in bombology. Once allies, the student thwarted one of his teacher’s more diabolic efforts when it became clear innocent people would be hurt. Jimmy/Liam escaped to the U.S. abetted by a relative, assumed a new identity and put his skill to positive pursuits, while Gaerity spent 20 years waiting for a chance to escape and wreak havoc on his former pupil.
His wrath is unleashed with a series of explosions that rapidly reduces the bomb squad’s manpower. His ultimate goal is Jimmy, but he’s plotted a slow, soul-withering death for him. Gaerity schemes to blow up Dove’s new wife (Suzy Amis) and step-daughter at a Boston Pops concert in which the wife plays violin.
Joe Batteer and John Rice’s script operates almost exclusively on movie logic and not common sense. Its bigger sins range from a reliance on incessantly sloppy dramatic shorthand and a shockingly careless attitude toward humanity.
“Blown Away’s” emphasis on the psychologically complex is relentlessly insupportable dramatically. The back story of strife in Northern Ireland and its impact on the central characters has no texture. One can piece together elements of Jimmy’s escape from the authorities and his new identity, but it’s never clear whether he remains a fugitive at large. After all, it takes Gaerity but seconds of screen time to track him down, while all the resources of Interpol (it’s revealed in a tossed-off reference) continue to be befuddled by Liam’s disappearance and whereabouts.
There are many more head-scratchers that fray at all efforts to create dramatic tension. Most contemporary thrillers are easy to logically pick apart after the fact. However, their visceral energy ought to overcome story lapses during the heat of viewing. That stated, director Stephen Hopkins continues to be the leading craftsman in the field saddled with bad material. As with the 1993 “Judgment Night,” his scripts make little sense and his efforts to prop up the narrative stylistically are noble if futile exercises.
However, where “Judgment Night” had some interesting performances, “Blown Away” is crushed by close to career low points for Bridges and Jones.
In the absence of character development or depth, they are reduced to a kind of posturing that borders on the embarrassing; their innate intelligence as actors makes both very bad with characters deprived of real motivation.
Marginally more acceptable are the supporting turns by Forest Whitaker, Lloyd Bridges, Suzy Amis and Caitlin Clarke, who are afforded scant opportunity to register in underwritten, barely integrated roles.
Finally, there are just too many cheap tricks and not enough substance in this big, explosive enterprise. Its arm’s-length stance toward issues and characters cynically reduces the film to statistics rather than emotions, setting off a commercial implosion which bodes ill for its box office.