TV Reviews : ‘Steal the Sky’ Leaves All Suspense Up in the Air

Times Television Critic

There’s not much point to “Steal the Sky,” the HBO drama airing 9 p.m. Sunday.

Oh, it’s watchable enough. But it’s a spy/adventure story that lacks suspense, a love story whose lovers lack intensity, a Middle Eastern story--set in the months preceding the history and politics-shaping six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1967--that lacks historical and political definition.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Aug. 27, 1988 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 27, 1988 Home Edition Calendar Part 5 Page 10 Column 4 Television Desk 2 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
A TV review in Friday’s Calendar incorrectly stated that Sunday’s HBO movie “Steal the Sky” is loosely based on a 1986 incident involving an American-born female Israeli agent. According to HBO, the movie is based on a 1964-65 incident involving an Israeli agent and an Iraqi Air Force pilot.

What “Steal the Sky” doesn’t lack is beauty. Its superbly filmed locations in Israel, Rome and Reno provide an exquisite background for Christopher Wood’s and Dorothy Tristan’s tale of a daring Israeli plan to steal a MIG plane from enemy Iraq and study its characteristics.

“Steal the Sky” is very loosely based on a 1986 case in which a female agent of the Israeli Mossad helped abduct from London an Israeli nuclear technologist who had revealed some of his nation’s nuclear secrets to the British press.


The catalyst in HBO’s fictional story is American-born Israeli agent Helen Rosenthal (Mariel Hemingway), whose mission under the name of Helen Mason is to seduce Iraqi Air Force pilot Munir Redfa (Ben Cross) and force him to defect to Israel with one of the powerful MIG jets being deployed against the Jewish nation by its Arab enemies. The plan is complicated by the existence of Redfa’s wife and children, but not to worry.

Directed by John Hancock, “Steal the Sky” begins intriguingly, with Hemingway a convincing seductress and Cross persuasive as an overmatched idealist torn between his love of country and distaste for its repressive government.

Their supposedly scorching affair generates only moderate heat between the two lovers, however. Nor is there ever any doubt about the outcome of the story, which swiftly diminishes in credibility and ultimately succumbs to the big, boffo, preposterous, Rockyesque finale, in which Munir and Helen inflate to super-hero and super-heroine.

It’s love, adventure--and schmaltz--in the Middle East.