Monday, August 26, 2013

The Delta Force (1986)

The Delta Force is an interesting case of what can happen when you take what should be a simple, fun comic book action movie and try to make something meaningful out of it.  While that's not entirely impossible, it generally needs a few things to work such as a deftly constructed script with good characters you can identify with and a consistent tone.  It also helps if the film has not been made by Cannon Films.

The story revolves around a nasty terrorist named Abdul (played by the distinctly not-Middle Eastern Robert Forster) who, along with bunch of fellow terrorists takes over an international flight that has the dream cast for any fan of Irwin Allen movies.  Eventually, The Delta Force is called in, led by the ultimate badass duo of Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris with Steve James thrown in because...Hell, do you really need a reason to include the man in your movie?  He was awesome!

The film is awkwardly laid out, insanely long (129 minutes for this thing, really?) action thriller that also seems to want to be one of those 70's disaster movies given everybody in the cast who is not either Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin or Steve James.  Hell, I'll throw in Robert Vaughn in his role as a military guy too since he always makes me smile.

The big problem I have is that while the action is classic 80's excess at its best, there are far too many scenes on the plane with Forster menacing the veritable menagerie of disaster movie cliches from the terrified flight crew to the frightened old couples (in a classy move, the bad guys single out the Jews, forcing a German stewardess to do the job.  Nice, guys.) to the stoic priest (played by disaster movie vet George Kennedy).

These scenes are just interminable as director Menahem Golan milks the cliche cow so hard its udders damn near burst.  Forster is nasty but in the blandest way possible, the passengers are terrified, the other terrorists are just there to be shot and the film can eternally kiss my ass for making me sit through a late-era Shelly Winters performance.  She's one of those performers who got worse the older she got for some odd reason.

Probably the worst thing about the plane scenes is just how shameless they are. I don't go into these films asking for a subtle touch but the way this film overplays its hand to make the bad guys more evil is quite grating.  There is a certain point where your bad guy stops being intimidating and just becomes a bore.  I'd say Forster hits this point a few minutes after he first takes over the plane.  Could have done without the Holocaust reference too, I'm here to watch Chuck Norris kill things and blow stuff up real good, not be reminded of the horrors of the real world.

Cannon wasn't good at a whole lot and solid quality drama certainly wasn't one of the things they did well.  For that to work, you need well drawn characters and in this case, the heroes barely get any characterization (Norris has a buddy he saves in the opening who dies at the end) and the villains are just there to be evil, nothing more though there is a little bit of the usual justification stuff trotted out that just comes off as stale.  It gets really old, really fast, especially considering the film runs 129 minutes.  You could trim a lot of the stuff on the plane and end up with a stronger, better paced movie.  Less Forster wouldn't hurt matters much either as neither he nor the rest of the villains are given anything resembling characters to play.

It really says something when you could improve a movie by dialing down its ambitions.

In spite of this, the film is reasonably entertaining and I do have a certain measure of affection for it when it is content to be the big comic book action film it should be.  Norris, Marvin (in his last role) and James (criminally underused here) are a nice trio of tough guys and in an ideal world this movie would have been just those three guys on a globetrotting terrorist killing fest for 90 minutes.

Still, at least the action scenes are hilariously over the top and awesome.  Some choice moments are Norris and James having a party with some bazookas, Norris riding around on a souped up bike that looks like a reject from a James Bond film, when it sticks to the action it's a really good movie and a great kill where he finds a terrorist hiding under a bed and just ventilates the hell out of him before tossing out the line "Sleep tight, sucker."  Also funny is how Alan Silvestri's good main title theme is also used as the action theme.  Come to think of it, it may be the only music heard on the soundtrack!

One other thing I get a chuckle out of is how Norris essentially turns into Jason Voorhees when he confronts Abdul.  Crashing through multiple windows, being unstoppable, all you need is to give the guy a hockey mask and you have a copyright infringement suit from Paramount!

Delta Force is a sporadically entertaining movie that aims way higher than it should and only hits half of the time.  It was based for the most part on a 1985 hijacking incident which probably accounts for the oddly serious tone the film goes for.  It worked for Roger Ebert but he is apparently the only one.  Once the action has kicked in (after an hour or so of bad drama), it works fantastically but the rest of the movie is drab and dull.  Check it out for the action but be ready to skip ahead a few times.  It's an interesting 80's relic that wouldn't get made today.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.