Robert Downey Jr. plays a newboy pilot flying alongside Mel Gibson in wild-and-crazy mode giving covert air support to embattled anti-Communist rebels during the Vietnam war.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s - around the time that US President Richard Nixon was busy denying any American presence at all in the supposedly neutral zones of South-East Asia - Air America, a CIA-controlled force of civilian pilots was, according to Christopher Robbins' book of the same name, busy providing covert air support for rebel anti-communist troops. This team of bug-eyed boys, according to Robbins, soon gained themselves a reputation as some of the most skilled and unhinged operators in the business.
Enter Hollywood and eye-in-the-sky maverick Billy Covington (Downey) who loses his job following a low-flying stunt over a Los Angeles freeway. Licenceless, Covington takes the offer of flying work abroad and ends up in a secret airbase in Laos, next to the border with 'Nam. His weird guy status cuts no ice, however, with the company of joystick juice-heads such as veteran Gene Ryck (a characteristically endearing Gibson) whose idea of a bad day is crashing more than once before lunch.
Unwitting drug runs and some CIA ass-covering soon rattle new boy Covington, as does the jaded Ryak, who's about to profiteer from the war himself and bugger off just as soon as he can. While Gibson and Downey work well together, Air America does tend to be slightly overcooked in the cheap laugh department at the expense of a meandering storyline.
Any notion of a genuinely alternative movie about Vietnam ultimately disappears under just another good-looking but rather empty buddy-buddy routine.
Reviewed by Tim Fennell