Remember This: 1993 movie ‘Airborne' wasn't exactly deep, but it showed off Cincinnati beautifully
Rollerblading? Film was really about our city
Ryan Clark | WCPO contributor
7:00 AM, Aug 23, 2017
"Mitchell's life was a California dream ... until he woke up in Cincinnati."- official trailer, "Airborne"
CINCINNATI --That quote should be enough, right? That should be all it took for Cincinnati natives to look at this movie and throw their hands up, to discard the film as just another piece of Hollywood mockery pointed at the Midwest and our values.
But a funny thing happened when "Airborne" came out in 1993 -- and especially in the years after its release. This movie, about a teen who finds himself yanked from his California home and dumped into Cincinnati, has found a warm place in the hearts of many in the Queen City.
Many who grew up in the early 1990s remember "Airborne," and as the years roll on, others have discovered it. There are Hollywood mainstays in the film -- Seth Green has a major role, and an extremely young Jack Black has a minor one. Director Rob Bowman went on to direct and produce "The X-Files" and "Castle." Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police, wrote the music, for crying out loud.
There were scenes filmed at locations all over Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and Pompilio's in Newport even has a dedication to the movie.
Is "Airborne" about rollerblading? Surfing? Hockey? Who cares! It's really about our whole area, which plays the biggest role.
Let's set the stage: Mitchell Goosen (Shane McDermott) is a California kid with a surfer's talent and mentality. But he could also rollerblade. His world is rocked when his scientist parents go to Australia for a project and he has to live in the 'Nati with Aunt Irene (Edie McClurg), Uncle Louie (Patrick Thomas O'Brien) and cousin Wiley (Seth Green). Mitchell is a fish out of water, but things look up when he meets "it" girl Nikki (Brittney Powell) and uses his blading skills to win over the kids in their street hockey games.
This begs the question: Was there a popular Cincinnati street hockey scene then? Again: Who cares? This is Hollywood!
"If you are unfamiliar with this fantastic 90s film shot here in our great city, Check it out," a Reddit thread reported last year. "Apparently Cincinnatians were obsessed with hockey back then? It culminates with a great rollerblading race down a fictional hill in Cincy called 'Devil's Backbone' with the finish line at Riverfront Stadium."
(For the record, Devil's Backbone is a very real, very winding road in Green Township, but the final scene is a compilation of locations around Greater Cincinnati.)
Some found the tale -- and its lead character, Mitchell Goosen -- inspiring.
"He was the coolest uncool guy in the school," wrote Pat Hanavan of FadedIndustry.com. "If only more of the world could strive to be like Mitch."
Most critics, however, felt otherwise. The film scores a meager 29 percent on RottenTomatoes.com. Released in the U.S. in September 1993, it barely recouped its $2.6 million budget with a $2.8 million take.
Here's what The Washington Post said about the movie at the time: "There are reasons to commend Bowman and screenwriter Bill Apablasa, who have gone out of their way to keep Mitchell's character honest. He manages to resolve his conflicts -- though not fulfill his needs exactly -- without giving up his values. In other words, nothing happens."
When the movie's 20-year anniversary rolled around, CityBeat ran a feature story.
"This year, the film turns 20, and two local 'Airborne' aficionados -- J Besl and Michael Sweeny -- have set up a screening and ‘90s-inspired party to celebrate its platinum anniversary and elevate its place in Cincinnati's pop culture legacy," the publication wrote.
"People think I'm being ironic when I admit my obsession," Sweeny told CityBeat. "But the more times I watch the movie, the more sincerely I appreciate it."
SlashFilm.com caught up with "Airborne" star Shane McDermott, now a real estate broker and artist living in Galveston, Texas. He said it took time before he realized the staying power of the movie.
"I think it was the time when 'Airborne' was just playing on HBO and on the different channels," he said. "It would just be repeated and repeated and so many people just enjoyed the film. And then it kind of became this cult classic. Which is great. If you want to be known for something, Mitchell Goosen is the right way to do it."
The movie was actually part of a big movie-making boom in Cincinnati. MovieMezzanine.com reported that 12 productions -- including "Little Man Tate," "Rain Man" and "A Rage in Harlem" -- brought an estimated $30 million into Cincinnati's economy from 1987 to 1991.
But none of the movies, arguably, showed off the city and area like "Airborne" did.
"'Airborne' is a Cincinnati tourism video with a few actors propped up in front of it to lend it some legitimacy," MovieMezzanine.com reported. "When Goosen and his love interest kiss on their first date, they do so on the polished docks of the waterfront of Kentucky's Newport on the Levee, the Cincinnati skyline framed perfectly in the background. To the right is the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, a scaled down prototype that served as the model for the Brooklyn Bridge.
This February the movie was a topic of conversation on the popular podcast "How Did This Get Made?" Panelists praised some aspects of "Airborne" but did not appreciate the story or acting, or the fact that the movie is about surfing. Or maybe hockey. Or possibly inline skating.
But they're missing the point. "Airborne" is about Cincinnati. That's why so many of us remember it to this day.