Ditch Brodie (Charlie Sheen) is a skydiving instructor in Arizona who thinks it's his lucky day when an attractive young woman calling herself Chris Morrow (Nastassja Kinski) shows up at his training centre and asks him to assist her in a jump. He is adamant that he is the man for the job, and she is won over by his charm - or so he thinks - but what he does not know is that the previous night her flatmate was attacked and murdered in a fish tank in their apartment. So why has she appeared here as if nothing has happened? What could she be planning?
Terminal Velocity was a major flop on its release, representing a setback not only in the career of Sheen but also Kinski, who was apparently hoping this would mark her big comeback role in potentially blockbusting movies. She never did make that impact on the film industry, so while she remained a recognisable face a cult following was all she would have to content herself with, and Sheen... Well, we know what happened with Charlie. All this was in spite of the fantastic skydiving stunts being prominently featured in the trailer, evidently the producers' idea of its big selling point, but the box office tills refused to ring and they must have wondered if this was all money down the drain.
Yet as with so many movies neglected by audiences in the cinemas, this found its home on video, as those who had given it a wide berth decided it might be worth a shot with their beer and pizza accompaniment, so there was a surprising number of people who, if it wasn't exactly uppermost in their minds, did have the pleasure of Charlie and Nastassja's company for one evening once upon a time. It's easy to see why it made few best action movie ever lists, as under David Twohy's script there was little to distinguish it from so many other rivals, yet if you gave it a chance you might be entertained for an hour and a half and not feel in the least bit cheated into the bargain.
There were some amusing bits of messing about with genre conventions, the main one being that instead of Sheen essaying the macho man role, sweeping up Nastassja in his muscular arms and saving her from the bad men, the opposite was true, with the bloke playing the girl's role and vice versa. She knows far more about what is going on than he does, so when a collection of money-mad ex-KGB agents threaten to kill them in their stampede for stolen gold, it is the woman who rescues the man. If you had seen enough of this type of thing to feel jaded by it all, then here you could indulge yourself in the knowledge that a modicum of thought had gone into its narrative.
Of course this Chris is not who she says she is, and the way this is worked out is pretty novel too, seemingly killing her off in the first of a few stunts involving taking to the skies. For a while this appears to be designed to take the wind out of the overconifdent Ditch's sails, which it assuredly does, yet also has to make him worthy of the action hero part so as the plot progresses we stop thinking of him as a bighead and start appreciating him as oddly vulnerable. Naturally this is too good to last, and although there's a self-deprecating tone to Sheen's performance he does get to take part in the film's most outrageous stunt, where he has to get the imprisoned girl out of the back of a sports car while falling from a great height, but this is so over the top it's actually quite diverting. Perhaps that sense of humour was the saving grace, stopping you taking it too seriously and guiding the viewer into the correct mindset for optimum enjoyment. Music by Joel McNeely.