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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Delta Force (1986) review



Chuck Norris (Major Scott McCoy), Lee Marvin (Colonel Nick Alexander), Hanna Schygulla (Ingrid Harding), Martin Balsam (Benjamin Kaplan), Shelley Winters (Edie Kaplan), Robert Forster (Abdul Rafai), Susan Strasberg (Debra Levine), George Kennedy (Father O'Malley), Bo Svenson (Captain Campbell), Robert Vaughn (General Woodbridge), Steve James (Bobby), William Wallace (Pete Peterson), David Menachem (Mustafa), Avi Loziah (Jaffer Khalil), Uri Gavriel (Jamil)

Directed by Menahem Golan

The Short Version: In 1986 Silver Screens everywhere were projecting large quantities of manliness in this, one of the pinnacles of 80s masculine movies; a hellfire missile action hero sandwich from Cannon. Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin's names alone are worth the ticket price. Terrorists hijack a jetliner packed with enough well known actors to make Irwin Allen have a fit; and America's Delta Force is tasked with taking them out, and rescuing the hostages while one of the catchiest synth scores ever conceived blares in the background.

Palestinian terrorists led by Abdul Rafai hijack a jetliner in Athens and threaten to kill everyone aboard should their demands not be met. The President sends in Delta Force to stop them and rescue the passengers. Unknown to them, the terrorists have moved the Israeli men aboard to a location in Beirut. Delta Force track them down and attempt to free the hostages before their execution.

The Cannon Group's ratio of good to bad movies varied wildly during their bid for box office supremacy in the 1980s. THE DELTA FORCE is one of their best pictures from this period, and likely the best of Chuck Norris's tenure with the company. It was among the best casts ever assembled for a Cannon production, too; so many big names and recognizable character actors. Additionally, for a production with a basic action premise (based on real life events), it's surprisingly accomplished filmmaking from the co-head of Cannon, a company not often associated with quality motion pictures.

A portion of THE DELTA FORCE is very similar to Irvin Kershner's Made For TV movie RAID ON ENTEBBE (1977) about the real life rescue of hostages held at Uganda's Entebbe Airport by Israeli commandos. There were two other movies -- Marvin Chomsky's Made For TV movie, VICTORY AT ENTEBBE (1976) that aired barely a month before the above mentioned Kershner film; and Menahem Golan's own OPERATION THUNDERBOLT (1977) based on the same daring rescue. This movie, though, feels like two films in one -- one half is a suspense thriller with a basis in fact, and the second half is a good ole fashioned action picture.

Originally Charles Bronson (already among Cannon's stable at this time) was tapped to co-star with Chuck Norris; but for whatever reason, Bronson never shared the screen with the American Karate king. Incidentally, Bronson starred in Irvin Kershner's film playing Brigadier General Dan Shomron. A shame audiences were denied this titanic team-up of two action cinema icons.

Tough Guy paragon Lee Marvin, as tired as he looks, is up to the challenge as Bronson's replacement. This was the actors last motion picture, and he's a good pair for Norris. There's a running gag between the two of them -- McCoy (Norris) repeatedly tells Alexander (Marvin) to not wait for him; and he always ends up waiting for him. Marvin is the leader of Delta Force, an elite group of soldiers. You could say he's the covert teams patriarch. There's a familial bond between them all. This extends to the lesser members who get little more than a few lines of dialog. 

Lee Marvin was a former Marine, having served in WW2, and received a few awards for his service. His rugged looks was perfect for westerns and action films playing both the hero and the villain. Out of a career judiciously stacked with impressive titles, one of his best remembered is as Major Reisman in Robert Aldrich's classic war picture THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). Even at age 63, and very sick, Marvin makes his last big screen role a memorable one. Prior to starring in the Cannon movie, Lee reprised his Major Reisman role for the Made For TV sequel, THE DIRTY DOZEN: NEXT MISSION (1985).

Going back to the films roots based on actual incidents, the plot of THE DELTA FORCE bears many similarities to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that occurred Friday, June 14th, 1985. It also briefly clones Operation Eagle Claw during the opening sequence depicting a failed rescue attempt. That disastrous operation took place on April 24th, 1980 in Tehran.

Menahem's movie is a fictitious piece using true events as its narrative structure; outside of those factors it's pure, unadulterated machismo. For approximately the first seventy minutes, the script (by Golan and James Bruner) wrangles a good deal of suspense that adds immeasurably to the action sequences that dominate the last 45-50 minutes. 

The sequence where the terrorists move all the Israelis to "first class", and then later, off the plane in Beirut, are two of the stronger moments before the action takes over. The various actors and actresses get the opportunity to (briefly) flex their muscle; such as Shelley Winters and tough guy in his own right, George "I'm Jewish like Jesus Christ!" Kennedy. As they're moved off the plane, the walk down the aisle seems to go on forever -- much like a condemned man going to his execution.

After sporadic moments of heroism, close-calls, cliffhangers, and mishaps, the film switches gears, firing off volleys of testosterone once the rescue mission is finally enacted. At that point, THE DELTA FORCE ceases being a tense thriller and transforms into a highlight reel of machine gun fire, car stunts, and explosions. If you didn't get enough of Alan Silvestri's catchy main theme music before, prepare to have it burned into your memory banks once the action kicks into high gear. 

This was one of a few Cannon productions that critics seemed to like; yet at the time, and even today, there were some critics that claimed this film, like others of a similar ilk, depicts the Arab terrorists as savages. Seriously, there's no other way to describe such a group that lives to exterminate an entire race of people for their religious beliefs; not to mention favoring rather messy means of execution. I'd be curious to know what such critics thought about the Nazis; or even the Japanese military mindset during WW2 which facilitated an even more sadistic hatred towards the Chinese. 

Furthermore, other critics labeled THE DELTA FORCE, and movies like it, as American propaganda. The first half is based -- rather closely -- on a factual expropriation. The latter half is an action movie that depicts its title commandos falling victim to bad intel, and an enemy that is consistently one step ahead of them till a little past the halfway mark. In real life, military operations fail and succeed -- just like they do in this movie. And that's all THE DELTA FORCE is... it's just a movie.

While these militant killers are indeed the bad guys, the script doesn't draw them as purely evil. They prove their maleficent mettle with lines like, "Shut up, you American imperialist pig!", and "We kill everyone on this bloody plane!!!" Another bit that lets us know these guys aren't the most civilized of people is when a sympathetic German stewardess (based on the real life flight attendant Uli Derickson, of TWA Flight 847) refuses to name the Jewish passengers. She points to her German lineage, and won't be a part of a scenario that reeks of the Nazi Death Camps all over again. Mustafa, the excitable terrorist, naturally hates Israelis; and in response to Hitler's dead Jew tally of his Final Solution retorts, "Not enough, lady, not enooouugh!!!!" 

Even so, there are a few moments where they show slivers of sympathy; like when Mustafa swaps out his angry, shaking, sweaty exterior for a warm and fuzzy one in the company of a little girl and again for a pregnant woman. Golan and Bruner's script cuts them just a wee bit of slack when they didn't have to. The real life terrorists of the factual event were far more brutal than their cinematic counterparts.

Chuck Norris is his usual 'walk softly and carry a big kick' self. He gets a few more lines than he did playing the god-like Matt Hunter in the previous years INVASION USA (1985); one of Cannon's most violent movies. Chuck gets to smile a bit, too; expanding on his range of facial expressions when normally, his fists and feet do all the talking. In THE DELTA FORCE, Norris not only mows down terrorists again, but he also gets to do it on this nifty motorcycle armed with mounted machine guns, and front and rear rocket launchers. To top it off, he wipes the floor with Abdul's (Forster) ass in the finale with one of those classic Chuck fights where the bad guy is tossed around like a rag doll.

Robert Forster doesn't look like he's got any Arab in him, but he does a fantastic job playing one -- accent and all. Forster was an underrated actor that, while he appeared in dozens of movies, never got the credit he deserved; nor does he stand a chance against Norris's kicks and punches, but then who does? Forster ran into Chuck a couple more times on WALKER, TEXAS RANGER in the late 1990s.

THE DELTA FORCE (1986) made approximately $18 million in the USA when it was released theatrically in February of 1986. Later that year, Cannon released another Norris film, FIREWALKER (1986) pairing Norris with Louis Gossett, Jr. Currently, a European documentary titled CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM is being produced regarding how Chuck Norris movies (among many others), along with a lone female voice dubber, aided in crumbling the Communistic wall surrounding Romanians during that time period.

Quite possibly the best directed of Menahem Golan's US productions, THE DELTA FORCE (1986) is a true spectacle of American action movie manliness the likes of which you don't see anymore. The films Red, White and Blue stripes wave prominently during the climax -- the mission accomplished, and the rescued passengers all downing Budweiser while happily belting out a rendition of 'America the Beautiful'. Your enjoyment of TDF depends on how you feel about upbeat action movies; particularly those from the 1980s when pride in country was a common sentiment for many; and there's that main theme playing again....

This review is representative of the MGM Blu-ray.

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