Airborne is very likely the most 1990s movie ever made. I know that’s a mighty bold claim to make, especially considering I am aware of the existence of the film Surf Ninjas, and that the trailer for that movie starts (STARTS) with a record scratch. But while Surf Ninjas only combined the 90s plot devices of, well, surfing and ninja, Airborne is stuffed to the gills with all things 90s. We’ve got: surfing, rollerblading, street sports, no less than four separate montages (including one, I sh*t you not, to the song “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred), bullies, an intense rivalry decided by a race, and tons of wailing guitars. Really, all you need for a 90s time capsule is this movie, a picture of Kelly Kapowski, and a Spin Doctors CD. Oh, also, the picture at right? That’s how Seth Green’s character looks when we’re introduced to him. Yeah.
The scene I’ll be breaking down is the climactic race at the end of the movie. It’s not like I had much of a choice. The scene takes up almost 18 minutes of the film’s 91-minute run time. Because if there’s one thing they teach you in Intro to Film for Non-Majors (A-, nbd), it’s that devoting 20% of your movie to a scene that was never foreshadowed, is never really explained, and features next to no dialogue, well that’s just a solid bit of filmmaking.
Strap on your rollerblades. We’re off.
As always, let’s begin by setting the scene. Pictured above is our protagonist, Mitchell Goosen, and his cousin Wiley. At the beginning of the movie, Mitchell is a laid back surfer dude who lives in California with his parents. We as an audience know this because approximately 90% of Mitchell’s lines in the movie discuss surfing, California, and being laid back. (See video below.) His parents win a research grant to study in Australia, and instead of taking their teenage son with them, they ship him off to live with his Aunt and Uncle in Cincinnati which is crazy because THERE IS NO OCEAN IN CINCINNATI AND NOW HOW WILL HE SURF OR SOMETHING. His parents’ rationale for not taking him with them is that they don’t want to “take him out of school for six months.” So, yes, this entire movie is based on the premise that there are apparently no schools Australia.
Also, that’s Seth Green again, as Mitchell’s dorky cousin Wiley. I don’t think any of you realize how many screenshots I have of his hair from this movie. I’ll spare you, but… yeesh. Fun fact: Someone in the wardrobe department actually made him look like that. On purpose.
These are two of our bullies/bad guys, although as this scene opens they’ve come around and befriended Mitchell. There are A LOT of bad guys in this movie. It gets a little confusing, so I’ll try to straighten it out for you. First, we have Snake, the Latino gentleman in the front. You can tell Snake is a bad guy for the following reasons: 1) everyone says he’s a bad guy; 2) his name is “Snake,” and; 3) he introduces himself thusly in speech class:
My name’s Snake. I don’t like speech. I never even signed up for it. And I ain’t got no hobbies, unless you call collecting knives and putting tattoos across the foreheads of guys I don’t like “hobbies.” And I have a 1.1 GPA.
I love that quote so much that I want to write a poem about it, and marry it, and have babies with it, and then grow old with it surrounded by a million grandchildren.
Behind Snake, we have Jack Black. I don’t remember his name in the movie, and I’m not going to look it up, because he just plays Jack Black in the movie anyway. Maybe it’s Dewey, or Dickey or something. Whatever. He’s the sidekick that falls down a lot.
Snake and Jack Black invite Mitchell to join them in a rollerblading race down Devil’s Backbone against some prep school assholes to settle their rivalry. This next sentence would have probably been about how dumb 90s movies always settled rivalries with races of some sort, but HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS, “DEVIL’S BACKBONE!” Nice work, screenwriters.
This is Jack, one of the other bullies. Arguably the head one. It’s kind of tough to tell, as the movie wants you to think he’s the head bully, but at no point do we see him do anything near the level of putting tattoos across the forehead of guys he doesn’t like. So I’m still thinking Snake is the boss. Maybe if we knew Jack’s GPA.
Jack is also the brother of Nikki, who has started dating Mitchell. Anyone who has seen a movie made between 1986 and 1998 may be shocked to hear this, but Jack does not approve. So the fact that they’re on the same team explains why he looks constipated.
And finally, pictured at far right is the head douche from the prep school. He announces the rules of the race, which is that there are no rules. Naturally.
AND WE’RE OFF!
Both teams start racing at breakneck speed down Devil’s Backbone, pushing and shoving to jockey for position, and dodging oncoming cars. Just so we’re clear, this is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever seen in a movie aimed at teens. Easily. These kids are racing down a mountain on rollerblades into oncoming traffic. I’ve seen A LOT of kids/teen movies, and I can’t think of anything that even comes close. Although they are wearing their pads, so maybe I’m just overreacting. Everyone knows knee pads are 100% effective against a speeding Buick. It’s just science.
Speaking of incredibly dangerous, rollerblade-based 1990s entertainment… Skitchin’? Anyone?
Oh, and in case you were wondering, OF COURSE Jack Black runs off the road, tumbles down a hill, and bashes his nuts into a tree. Sometimes movies write themselves.
This is a shot of Mitchell jumping over a car. There was no ramp involved. He was just rollerblading down the street and jumped over a car with a few feet to spare. When I did my Scene Breakdown of 3 Ninjas, I posited that 14-year-old Rocky’s two-handed foul line dunk (while wearing jeans) was “the greatest athletic achievement ever.” I feel I should amend that. It was “one of” the greatest athletic achievements ever. I say this because a 75-inch vertical leap while wearing rollerblades has to at least be in the conversation.
This would also be a good opportunity to point something out. There is really no reason for this movie to be titled Airborne. It is about a surfer who also rollerblades and sometimes play street hockey. Save for a brief half-pipe montage, this shot, and one more moment later, no one is ever in the air. There are literally dozens of titles that make more sense than Airborne.
What I’m saying is this — how in the hell no coked-up executive in 1993 figured out that this movie should have been called Tubular! is completely beyond me.
Oh hey, remember when this was a race down Devil’s Backbone? Yeah, they’re in the parking lot of a baseball stadium now. The lesson we learn here is this: hey, stop asking questions, guy.
Anyway, things are getting incredibly serious in the race. How do I know this, you might ask? Simple. There’s a wailing guitar solo in the background (around the 3:00 mark of Part 10). Holy sh*t did people in the 90s love wailing guitars. Think of any TV show you want from the 90s that was aimed at teens. Almost all of them featured wailing guitars in the credits, and as they entered or exited every scene. (For example: “Saved by the Bell“, and “90210“.)
I like to think there was one guy who recorded all the wailing guitars for movies and TV in the 90s, and now he just sits around telling his grandkids about how he was the king (“THE KING!”) of the background guitar solo, and swearing at the TV whenever he sees what he thinks would have been a good spot for one of his tasty riffs. Poor guy.
Back to the race. Despite most of the scene focusing on Mitchell and the two white bullies, Snake finishes first, followed by two of the prep douches. Only at this point in the movie do we learn that the race isn’t over until one team has three competitors cross the finish line. Like, it wasn’t even discussed among the competitors at the top of the hill. All we know is that the only rule is that there are no rules*. This leads me to believe that these kids participate in death races down mountains named after Satan more often than they let on, and it’s so obvious they don’t even need to bring it up. (UPDATE – As pointed out in the comments, it actually was explicitly stated by the random black woman who served as race starter, despite not being introduced at any prior point in the film. Lo siento.)
In which case, their parents are clearly negligent and I’m calling Social Services.
*For a race that claims to have no rules, the “three guys to win” thing seems awfully rule-y, doesn’t it?
Mitchell realizes he’s out of place on some parking deck, and needs to get down to ground level to finish the race. So, he jumps over another car (lots of property damage in this scene) and skates down a conveniently tilted flatbed truck. This would be more impressive if not for two things:
1) He wouldn’t have even had to do it if he hadn’t gotten lost like a sh*thead.
2) Snake already won the race. Quit being a showoff.
Whatever. Now we’re coming down the home stretch with Mitchell and the two remaining bullies.
After causing Jack to fall down and bump his crown, the prep school bully tries to smash into Mitchell and flip him over that railing. Surely this will work out very well for him.
LOL WHY YOU WET, BRO? Oh yeah, because you kinda just tried to murder someone by throwing them over a ledge and into a river.
Mitchell goes over to help Jack up and the two of them cross the finish line together, giving them the three finishers required to win. Either because they won, or because Mitchell helped him up, or because he is suffering from some sort of serious brain injury from the fall he just took, Jack is now friends with Mitchell, too. Aww, isn’t that nice.
Except of course for the fact that like 20 people started this exceedingly dangerous competition, and the only people who are accounted for are Mitchell, Jack, Snake, Seth Green, the two prep school douches who finished, the bully in the water, and one other prep school kid. That’s not even half! Cincinnati could be littered with dead teenage rollerbladers, and these guys are all “YAY! YIPPEE! Let’s hug and kiss and high-five and get sodas!” You know what they call people like this, who only care about their own personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others? Sociopaths.
Then again, given that tattoo thing that Snake does to people’s foreheads, I guess we shouldn’t be shocked.
As if Airborne wasn’t 90s enough for featuring an 18-minute rollerblading race, it goes all-in for the ending. There are no further updates, no smash cut to a “Six months later” scene where everybody’s all friendly, no “Mitchell and Nikki went on to get married and have five surfer kids” title cards. All of those would have been way 90s. But a slow motion kiss over wailing guitars, and then fade straight to credits? It’s perfect. I’m just shocked the director showed enough self-restraint to not use star wipes.
In summation, this movie is so aggressively 1990s that it might as well be wearing Zubaz.