Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
Martin Lawrence at the premiere of “Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat” at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, Calif., July 29, 2002. (Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect)

HVAC in Popular Movies: Did Hollywood Get It Right? 'Blue Streak' Edition

April 30, 2016
How accurate is the depiction of HVAC in this 1999 action comedy starring Martin Lawrence? A professional engineer who moonlights as a film critic weighs in.

Editor’s note: Hollywood long has been known for—ahem—taking liberties with the truth (just ask any composite character). In HPAC Engineering’s ongoing series “HVAC in Popular Movies: Did Hollywood Get It Right?," Ron Wilkinson, a professional engineer who moonlights as a film critic, takes a look at movies and television series whose makers may or may not have let HVAC fundamentals get in the way of a good story.

Martin Lawrence at the premiere of “Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat” at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, Calif., July 29, 2002. (Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect)

Blue Streak (1999)

Has there ever been a movie making more extensive use of HVAC systems than this action comedy starring Martin Lawrence? From jewel thief Miles Logan (Lawrence) gaining access to a priceless diamond that can not, no way, no how be stolen to his hiding the gem to his later retrieving the gem, ductwork is everywhere.

The film starts off in basic “Mission: Impossible” style, with Logan and his accomplices entering an elevator shaft through a building’s roof and rappelling to a HVAC duct. The duct takes them directly to the ultra-secure offices of an impenetrable bank. Though the film takes place in the present, the bank security system looks like something from the days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What’s more, a ventilation duct being connected directly to an elevator shaft is like something from a Charlie Chaplin movie, not a $65-million-budgeted Hollywood extravaganza. Is the idea to keep the elevator shaft sweet-smelling and air-conditioned, or is it to continually expose office workers to the sound of elevator machinery and the smell of cable grease? On the other hand, if the idea is to make sure fire travels as quickly as possible from floor to floor, connecting all floors to an elevator shaft with a wide open, non-fire-protected duct is a great idea.

Staying true to the characters-crawling-through-air-vents trope (see “Mission: Impossible,” “Jurassic Park,” “Die Hard,” and “Die Hard 2," but not “The Boondock Saints”), the duct easily supports a 200-pound man and all of his gear.

Next, the burglars escape through more ductwork in the building across the street.

The heist is foiled, and Logan is arrested, but not before he stashes the diamond in the ductwork of a building under construction. When Logan goes to retrieve the diamond following a two-year stint in prison, he discovers the building is, of all things, a police station. More duct-crawling ensues, and, finally, a remote-controlled car is dispatched through the duct to find the gem. Luckily, the duct is strong enough to hold a man, but thin enough to pass radio waves.

For a flick that definitely has its ducts in a row, don’t miss this HVAC Hollywood wonder.

About the Author

RON WILKINSON PE LEED AP CPMP | Principal

The founding principal of Seattle-based Wilkinson Commissioning Management, Ron Wilkinson, PE, LEED AP, CPMP, is the author of the first commissioning training program for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for New Construction and Major Renovations Green Building Rating System and the founding recording secretary for ASHRAE Guideline Project Committee 0.2/1.2, The Commissioning Process for Existing Building Systems and Assemblies/The Commissioning Process for Existing HVAC&R Systems. An ASHRAE Distinguished Lecturer and an American Institute of Architects Continuing Education Lecturer, he has spoken on commissioning practices internationally. He is a longtime member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board.