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Film / Bird on a Wire

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"You come to Detroit and you rent a Beamer? That's like going to Germany and eating Jimmy Dean sausages!"
Rick Jarmin

Bird on a Wire is a 1990 comedy film starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, directed by John Badham, and shot mainly in British Columbia, Canada. The alley motorcycle chase scene was filmed in Victoria BC's Chinatown, in Fan Tan Alley.

Rick Jarmin (Gibson) is put in witness protection after he helps the FBI bust drug dealer Eugene Sorenson (David Carradine). Fifteen years later, he is living with a new identity as a gas station attendant in Detroit. When his old girlfriend Marianne Graves (Hawn) stops at the gas station and recognizes him, his cover gets blown. The recently released Sorenson finds out, and both Rick and Marianne have to flee across the country with the vengeful Sorenson in hot pursuit.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Rick develops a lot of skills during his time in Witness Protection, due to the various identities he's had over the years. All of his ideas at the ranch/veterinary hospital apparently worked perfectly.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The "DETROIT TO RACINE" ferry. Putting aside the actual location of the shoot, Detroit is on the wrong side of Michigan for such a ferry to even be practical, while Racine doesn't even have a dock capable of handling such a ferry.
  • Call-Back: Rick uses a backwards headbutt in order to escape some cops who try to cuff him early on in the film. He tries it again against Weyburn, but it proves ineffective, as Weyburn easily dodges it, even asking Rick what he's doing.
  • Crooks Are Better Armed: The clímax involves Rick trying to take out the bad guys by improvising with the contents of a zoo display and a tranquilizer pistol. Sorenson and Diggs, on their end, are packing assault rifles that they blast with trigger-happy abandon.
  • Dirty Cop: Sorenson and Diggs are both ex-DEA agents gone bad. Both of them were involved in drug smuggling and Sorenson actually did time for this. There's also Weyburn, who's a dirty FBI agent, working for Sorenson and Diggs.
  • Dutch Angle: The movie makes use of them particularly during action sequences.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes a brutal Stern Chase, but in the end Marianne and Rick rekindle their love, kill the criminals out to get them, and go live on a sailboat in the Bahamas.
  • Eaten Alive: After he is lured by Rick into an animal cage, Diggs is mauled and eaten by a lioness. In a struggle, Rick managed to kick Weyburn into a pool inhabited by a swarm of ravenous piranhas.
  • Fanservice: Both stars exhibit their behinds at different points.
  • Faux Yay: One of Rick's previous identities was that of a Camp Gay hairdresser, much to Marianne's amusement.
  • High-Voltage Death: On a ruined bridge, Rick managed to give Sorenson a nasty electric shock using an electric fence and himself as a makeshift conduit. Sorenson let go of the bridge and fell onto the fence itself, finally electrocuting him to death. Rick barely survived with Marianne's help.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Rick Jarmin is an extremely snarky rogue who keeps a lot of secrets from Marianne, but he has helped improve the businesses of the people he worked under as part of his Witness Protection identities and makes obvious he always pined for Marianne.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The zoo in which the final battle takes place. Let's count the ways: 1) Mixing leopards and tigers in the same space. 2) putting chimpanzees and baboons in the same habitat then 3) allowing aforementioned leopards and tigers access to the monkey habitat 4) also, crocodiles and snakes and 5) rickety bridge/ledge that connects with 6) unsecured artificial waterfall that fills artificial lake filled with 6) wholly natural piranhas!
    • At least the rickety bridge was not intended for human use; but it may be dangerous for the animals as well.
  • Room Disservice: Attempted, but failed thanks to Rick being smart enough to be suspicious.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Rick spends the entire film traveling to the home of his old Witness Protection handler hoping that he will be able to help him regarding the current situation (Weyburn, his new handler, not only is a goon of The Cartel Sorenson and Diggs work for but also deleted Rick's case file), only to discover that 1) said old handler retired because he is suffering from Alzheimer's and 2) Marianne called Witness Protection behind Rick's back thinking they would help, which means Diggs, Sorenson and Weyburn are ten seconds away from kicking the door down and start shooting.
  • Scary Black Man: Diggs is calm and collected at all times except at his death with an icy demeanour befitting a Professional Killer. Par for the course for a character played by Bill Duke.
  • Scenery Porn: The ferry ride shows some nice vistas of (the Vancouver side of) Lake Michigan.
  • Shot in the Ass: Happens to Rick early on. Luckily for him, it's done with a Short-Range Shotgun, so the pellets don't do much damage, though he does seem to be in visible pain from it for the rest of the film.
  • Shout-Out: Fan Tan Alley, where the motorcycle chase takes place, is actually referred to by the pursuers as Fan Tan Alley.
  • Skirts and Ladders: The wind blows Marianne's skirt up as the duo is going up a ladder, displaying her underwear to the audience.
  • Titled After the Song: The title refers to the Leonard Cohen song "Bird on the Wire".
  • Vancouver Doubling (and Victoria doubling).
  • Witless Protection Program: Rick is not found merely because of his girlfriend, but because his old handler retired and the new one sold him out.
  • Witness Protection: The film starts with Rick's cover being blown by his ex-girlfriend. After 15 years of hiding and several different identities. The title means that if he touches any of his previous lives, he may die like a bird that touches two live wires.