A good way to come up with an action movie if you don’t care whether it’s any good and it’s the ’90s and Charlie Sheen is going to star in it is to just think of a cool-sounding title and hope for the best. For example, “Terminal Velocity.” That sounds neat, right? It’s a scientific term, which is a plus, and the “terminal” part has a death connotation. Yessir, once you’ve come up with “Terminal Velocity” as the title of your movie, you’re pretty much home free.
And that is the story of why there’s a movie called “Terminal Velocity.”
Charlie Sheen is the “hero” (under certain definitions of that word) of this “action” (under certain definitions of that word) movie, playing an expert skydiver named — hang on to your hats and purses, ladies and gentlemen — Ditch Brodie. Ditch Brodie is his “name” (under certain definitions of that word), and being the biggest hotshot skydiving instructor in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area is his game. You know how every skydiving school always has a “bad boy” who hits on the lady clients and regularly violates FAA safety regulations? That’s Ditch Brodie.
What did Ditch Brodie do before he became the Fonzie of skydiving? Do you really care? Oh, fine. If you must know, he used to be an Olympic gymnast. We learn this when we see him on the cover of an old issue of Sports Illustrated that’s in his office wastebasket, right on top, presumably so people will notice and ask him about it.
One day a gorgeous blonde named Chris (Nastassja Kinski) walks in, wanting to jump out of an airplane TODAY. Ditch Brodie is awfully busy, but he can always free up an afternoon for a gorgeous blonde who’s acting suspiciously and demanding to be put in a life-risking situation as soon as possible. Ditch Brodie flirts hardcore with Chris throughout the instruction and practice period, which may or may not be a factor in Chris’ decision to leap to her death as soon as the plane is in the air.
Well, it’s not good for a skydiving instructor’s reputation to have a student die, not even when the student apparently did it on purpose and the instructor is understood to be a carefree playboy. A district attorney named Pinkwater (played by James Gandolfini back when he could still breathe through his nose) comes around investigating whether manslaughter charges are appropriate. Ditch Brodie is so certain he has nothing to hide and did nothing to contribute to Chris’ death that he sees no harm in being a combative jerk-knob with Pinkwater, who is polite and non-accusatory.
You have to understand, “Terminal Velocity” comes from the period of Charlie Sheen’s career during which he only played arrogant jerks whom viewers were inexplicably supposed to like anyway. This period comprises the years 1987-present.
Anyway, Ditch Brodie does a little investigating of his own, much like an actual hero might do, albeit for purely selfish reasons, and he learns that Chris is not dead. She faked her death using the body of her roommate, previously killed by bad guys for reasons not yet revealed. Now she manipulates Ditch Brodie into helping her break into a well-protected top-secret facility using his marvelous skydiving skills, and thereupon to steal a top-secret [select one: computer chip/data disk/scientific formula/weapon].
It turns out the way you would have predicted: Chris, Pinkwater, the guys who killed Chris’ roommate, and the roommate herself are all former KGB agents who got laid off when the Soviet Union went out of business. Bored and broke, they hijacked an airplane full of gold, but now Chris wants to stop them because Pinkwater and his goons will use the money to stage a coup, ruin Russia, and be the new Stalin.
Ditch Brodie’s only question is this: how does this affect me, personally, right now? Realizing that Chris will not be able to have sex with him if she’s killed by Pinkwater for turning against the Russians, he grudgingly decides to rescue her. Bonus: he’ll get to use his skydiving powers in the process. When you set up your hero as having a very specific skill like that, you do everything you can to make sure he gets to use it. If that means everybody uses airplanes instead of automobiles to get around, so be it.
The film’s climactic sequence is a violation of physics, logic, and basic human decency, which is to say it’s pretty typical. Chris has been locked in the trunk of a bad guy’s car, and the car is on a plane. Ditch Brodie pushes the car out of the back of the plane and while in free fall, climbs to the trunk, unlocks it with the key, gets Chris out, and parachutes them both to safety. The car, meanwhile, plummets to its death, an innocent victim of collateral damage.
But hey, remember that part where Ditch Brodie used to be a gymnast? What about that? Well, for helping thwart Pinkwater and the others’ dastardly plan, Ditch Brodie and Chris are both given medals by the grateful Russian government. Receiving a medal fulfills Ditch Brodie’s Olympic dream (sort of), which it turns out is what the movie was about the whole time. The movie just never mentioned it before. Ditch Brodie totally milks the applause at the medal ceremony, too, like the unlovable toolbox he is. Ditch Brodie, ladies and gentlemen! Ditch Brodie.