The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper is a low-budget road comedy that, despite a strong finish, quickly wears out its welcome as it strays farther and farther from its title premise.
D.B. Cooper is the alias of an infamous plane hijacker who made off with a $200,000 ransom after hijacking a Boeing 727 in late 1971. He did so by dramatically parachuting out of the plane. Despite a 45-year manhunt, Cooper has never been found. The incredible, cinematic nature of Cooper’s heist cemented him in American folklore, and the fact he got away with it gives the tale a fantastic cross-generational lifespan. We don’t know who D.B. Cooper was or what he did with that money. We probably never will.
Of course, there wouldn’t be a film about D.B. Cooper without some hypothetical answers for the lingering questions surrounding the heist, and the answers in Pursuit are decidedly dull. Here, Cooper is actually Jim Meade (Treat Williams), a good guy with big dreams but some difficulty reacclimating to life after the army. He pulls off his heist and immediately hightails it to Hannah (Kathryn Harrold), the love of his life and the kind of girl who is down for some illicit fun even though you’re driving down the highway with cops in hot pursuit. Meade’s nemesis is his former commanding officer in the Army, Bill Gruen (Robert Duvall), now an insurance investigator trying to figure out where Cooper stashed the cash.
Gruen isn’t Meade’s only problem. A colorful cast of other veterans is also on his tail, including Remson (Paul Gleason), who is a little wilier and dangerous. The story starts with promise but quickly devolves into a series of near-misses between Meade and his pursuers that grows old. Director Roger Spottiswoode (later known for Tomorrow Never Dies) does his best and purportedly added a majority of the action sequences and characters to give it some energy (with some screenwriting help from Ron Shelton, who went on to make Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump). The original cut was apparently a pretty dull and melodramatic story about aimless veterans during the Vietnam era. Either way, this is a forgettable approach to the D.B. Cooper story.
That being said, Kino Lorber has done an excellent job on the restoration, and the commentary track included might be an interesting listen. Even failed projects sometimes have an interesting backstory.