Predictable `Fire Birds' Lacks Heat In Script, Acting

X ``Fire Birds,'' with Nicolas Cage, Tommy Lee Jones, Sean Young, Bryan Kestner, Dale Dye. Directed by David Green, from a script by Nick Thiel, Paul F. Edwards and David Taylor. Alderwood, Aurora Village, Bay, Crossroads, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Renton Village, United Artists Cinema 70, Valley drive-in. ``PG-13'' - Parental guidance advised, due to violence, language.

If you think of movies as big-screen video games, see ``Fire Birds.'' If not, you may want to skip this ``Top Gun'' with copters and cartels.

The aerial combat sequences, pumped up with sense-shattering Dolby-stereo effects, are the only episodes with any vitality. Everything about the script (which took three - count 'em - three writers) is reassuringly trite and routine.

Nicolas Cage, who could handle this kind of role in his sleep (and nearly does), plays a hotshot Army helicopter pilot who needs to learn a few lessons in humility before he can go back to blowing South American drug dealers out of the sky. Tommy Lee Jones turns in his standard tough-softie performance as a drill-sergeant type who does the teaching, and Sean Young turns up as the least likely flying expert since Kelly McGillis.

It's the kind of movie in which you know that the one woman on the team will turn out to be the hero's ex-flame, that they'll fight about her spending time with other men, that she'll say things like, ``I'm not a piece of steak for you two to fight over,'' and that they'll kiss and make up after a lot of witless innuendos about the relationship between sex and flying.

You also know that at some point Cage will announce that fighting drug cartels is no different than conventional combat (``This is a war and it's our duty to fight'') and that Jones will eventually turn misty-eyed and say, ``You remind me of me 20 years ago.''

Any notion that the drug war is a maddeningly complicated matter, involving bountiful supply and endless demand, is tossed away in the opening scenes. ``Fire Birds'' barely exists in the same universe as ``Traffik,'' the recent British miniseries that so eloquently and despairingly deals with the weighty moral issues involved in combating drugs.

``Fire Birds'' reduces it all to kiss-kiss-bang-bang, and the implication that a few theater-rattling explosions will turn the enemy to toast forever. The only blessing is that it runs less than 90 minutes.