There are many things that can make a movie bad. Lack of talent either in front of or behind the camera, overreaching by the director / producer, a budget totally incapable of bringing the story to life, a stupid story idea to begin with…
Then there are things unconnected with the movie itself that can have an effect.
Producer Gary Kurtz (who had also worked in that role on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) was going through an ugly divorce at the time. The money he spent / lost in the divorce led to a cascade of problems with Slipstream, culminating in the movie never getting a US theatrical release. Which is probably why you haven’t heard of it.
Slipstream opens with narration – which is rarely a good sign. We are informed that environmental destruction has caused such an upheaval on the Earth that land masses have been completely rearranged, jamming nations and peoples up against each other willy-nilly. This point will never get mentioned in the movie, so don’t worry about the geophysical impossibility of it. More importantly (but not by much), atmospheric circulation patterns have gotten so screwed up that there is something called the “slipstream’. From the sound of it, it’s like the Jet Stream has come down to near the surface.
Whatever happened, long distance travel between communities has been reduced to ultralight aircraft hopping from one outpost to another. Well, at least in the part of the world where our story takes place.
The action begins with a man in a business suit (huh?) being chased over the badlands of Cappadocia by one of these ultralights. He is later given the name “Byron” due to his poetic musings. I want to call him “Kevin”, since to me he resembles a youngish Kevin Spacey. He’s played by Bob Peck , who is better known for his role in Jurassic Park, where he played the hunter who got eaten by velociraptors. I suspect that there are people out there who wouldn’t mind if Kevin Spacey got eaten by velociraptors, but that’s neither here nor there.
The pilot of the ultralight is Tasker, a cop of some sort. He’s played by Mark Hamill, who is wearing a beard so people won’t think of him as Luke Skywalker. Tasker’s partner is Belitski, played by Kitty Aldridge. She does not wear a beard. The two of them manage to snag Byron by shooting him in the arm with some sort of crossbow bolt. That Byron seems unaffected by this injury goes unremarked.
Tasker and Belitski are a “good cop / bad cop” team who are out to get Byron so they can bring him to a certain large settlement to face justice. We’re told he killed someone, but Byron neither looks nor acts like a killer. He actually seems blase about the whole thing. Tasker’s clearly the “Bad” Cop here; when the three stop at a small outpost for a quick meal, an adventurer named Matt (Bill Paxton) figures that there’s got to be a reward for Byron’s capture, and he easily nicks Byron away from Tasker’s oversight.
Now this could be the beginning of a halfway decent action adventure flick as Tasker and Belitski try to recover their prisoner, following Matt and Byron from one settlement to another. Instead, it slides off into mystical and philosophical territory. Byron is an enigma who seems to have abilities and knowledge above the ordinary. At one stop, he cures a boy’s blindness so easily that it isn’t even shown on screen. He doesn’t sleep, and notes that he therefore doesn’t dream.
But as all reviewers have noted, the editing sucks. I’m not an editing expert, so I cannot comment intelligently on that matter. But there were more than a few scenes that left me going “Wait, what just happened?” That’s just the most obvious of the movie’s problems. That it never seems to get into the philosophical questions that it raises is another.
Given the talent assembled here, this could have been an at least passable movie. The acting, for one, is up to the demands of the script. And if you like ultralight aircraft and the World Heritage Site that is Cappadocia, you’re in luck. But the ingredients just weren’t assembled properly.
It got a theatrical release in the UK, though, so I was able to see it on the big screen. Sheesk, but you’re right: it’s one bad movie. I watched it again maybe a decade later on video, just to check, and it didn’t seem to have improved.
As you say, it should have been good, all the augurs were right, but . . .