How to beat the rush to bring a U.S. military-vs.-Latin American drug cartel saga to the big screen: Start your project two years ago.
That's the situation with "Wings of the Apache," which Arnold Kopelson is producing with Keith Barish and Dale Dye (ex-Marine captain who served as tech adviser on Kopelson's "Platoon").
Conceived by retired Army colonels John Swennson and Step Tyner, and developed with heavy military input, the story deals with a special Army task force sent to an unnamed South American country to fight drug lords. Nicolas Cage, Sean Young and Tommy Lee Jones star; production wraps shortly in Arizona for possible summer release.
Featured in the action is the $14-million Apache attack helicopter--which, Kopelson noted, was highly visible in December newscasts about the Panama invasion.
The movie also explores the issue of women soldiers used in battle, mirroring events in Panama, where Army Capt. Linda Bray led a platoon that came under fire.
"And when I tuned in to the news and saw (Gen.) Max Thurman in Panama, I almost fell out of my chair," Kopelson said. "I met with him a year ago. He was very much in favor of this movie being made and wanted to make sure we got the cooperation we needed."
"Apache" has no Noriega-like character, however. The key villain: a rogue East German drug runner.