Saturday, February 19, 2005

Review: The Delta Force (1986)


A plane on its way from Greece to the U.S. is hijacked by a pair of incredibly sweaty terrorists. The plane is rerouted to Beirut, headquarters of the "New World Revolution" (not to be confused with the "New Power Generation"). The passengers are taken into the terrorists' stronghold and forced to endure the longest layover of all time. There is only one hope of taking down the terrorists and bringing home the hostages - the DELTA FORCE. After several disappointing false starts, this team of tough-as-nails U.S. commandos brings the funk to the already rather funky terrorists and all manner of stuff begins to blow up. The hostages are freed and the Budweiser flows like water.


There was a particular breed of cartoonish, jingoistic action movie produced in the 1980's - blithely patriotic; violent yet optimistic; steeped in a worldview free from subtlety. The Delta Force is one of the shining beacons of this genre. The movie is loosely based on an actual event: the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight and the subsequent hostage crisis in Beirut. Some of the film's developments are taken directly from reality, including the murder of a U.S. serviceman who was on the flight. The real hostages were freed after 3 weeks, though not by US commandos - it was Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad who intervened on their behalf. The raw material for a quality film is clearly here, but the downfall of the Delta Force occurs when it diverges from the true story. The producers transformed a historical event rife with dramatic possibilities into a juvenile right-wing military fantasy.

It's almost as though the Delta Force is two different films which were edited together at random - one based on the real events of the TWA hijacking, the other a live-action episode of G.I. Joe. The former comes dangerously close to some actual drama thanks mainly to the tension between the hostages and their captors. The latter, which dominates the final third of the film, quickly erases any memory of said drama through the use of several million explosions. Thus overall the film has too much drama for an action movie and too much action for a serious drama. At times it strays toward a respectable effort but in the end it relies too heavily on cliches, stereotypes, mindless violence, and the talents of a certain strawberry-blonde actor (see below).

If one person can be credited for single-handedly keeping the Delta Force squarely in the "bad" category of cinema it is veteran star of screen and television Chuck Norris. In the interest of full disclosure I must admit a deep and possibly psychotic obsession with Norris, and had the Delta Force starred some other second-tier tough-guy I might not have bothered to review it. His portrayal of the unbearably heroic Major McKoy is both heartfelt and unintentionally hilarious. When he squints into the middle distance and utters lines of comic-book dialogue in his whispering monotone you get the impression that in his mind, he is Clint Eastwood. He brings a perfect state of woodenness to McKoy in much the same way he does to every other role he takes on.

The supporting cast of this film includes a bevy of elderly B-list Hollywood actors. Heading up these geriatric stars is Lee Marvin, who portrays the leader of the eponymous Delta Force. He grumbles his lines like a hung-over grandfather one step away from removing his belt and giving somebody a good beating. By this point in his life, Marvin's eyebrows had begun to outgrow his face at an alarming rate and in certain scenes it appears as though he tried to clean out the lint trap on his dryer using his forehead.

Other high points in the Delta Force include a car chase in which a melon stand is spectacularly smashed (what kind of movie car chase DOESN'T feature the destruction of a fruit stand, by the way?); a scene wherein a young Delta Force member survives a Hiroshima-like explosion with only minor redness and swelling to show for it; and Chuck Norris' motorcycle, which features missiles so phallic they actually become erect before firing. Speaking of the erotic subtext of the film, there is one scene aboard the plane in which the leader of the hijackers - who bears a striking resemblance to a young Saddam Hussein - removes his shirt and cuts it into blindfolds with a straight razor. I feel sure the low-angle shot of the sweaty, bare-chested villain looking up with a gleam in his eye as he slices up his t-shirt has fueled the closet fantasies of more than one Delta Force viewer.

Final Analysis

Although the plot of the Delta Force is drawn from real events, one gets the sense that the true vision of the filmmakers was less about the gripping interactions between desperate people in high-pressure situations and more about things blowing up. It feels like the plot is just delaying the inevitable orgy of violence. The Delta Force is recommended for fans of Chuck Norris and/or anyone wishing to relive that golden time in history when terrorism was still fun.