Review: Megaforce (1982)
What a remarkable dirtbike! Ace Hunter goes airborne...
Originally uploaded by sacrificepawn.
In an unspecified part of the world (one of the parts with lots of sand and not much else), a paramilitary group is mounting raids on the peaceful country of Sardoon. This group, under the command of an evil General named Guerrera (Henry Silva), drive their tanks into Sardoon and blow up power stations and other resources, then flee across the border to the neighboring country of Gamibia. The Gamibian government gives Guerrera's men refuge and refuses to allow the Sardoonian military to persue Guerrera into their country. Unable to combat Guerrera themselves, two officials from Sardoon's army, Major Zara (Persis Khambatta) and General Byrne-White (Edward Mulhare) seek the help of a clandestine organization known as Megaforce.
Megaforce is a top-secret, rapid-deployment defense team which monitors the globe and protects all good people from terrorists, communists, and other evildoers. The free nations of the world contribute their most skilled soldiers, most brilliant scientists, and most advanced weaponry to this elite group, and they control its actions. Megaforce is headquartered in a huge underground complex in the American desert and their base of operations houses an incredible array of futuristic weaponry (fancy dirtbikes, mostly).
The commander of Megaforce is puffy-haired, spandex-sporting Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick). Other members include southern-drawling Dallas, antisocial scientist and brilliant inventor Eggstrum, token black guy Zachary Taylor, and a gaggle of good-natured foot soldiers from across the globe. Megaforce prides itself on its amazing array of futuristic weaponry, and Zara and Byrne-White are given a demonstration of some of the most incredible items in the Megaforce arsenal, including the aforementioned dirtbikes (which can shoot tiny rockets) and a dune buggy whose paint turns black in the dark. They also have fantastic 3-D computer displays which they use for planning missions and showing really stupid cartoons.
Ace and company put together a brilliant plan to sneak into Gamibia and strike Guerrera's base of operations, then lead Guerrera and his men on a chase which will take them across the border and into the hands of the Sardoonian army. Zara (who also happens to be the daughter of Sardoon's president) likes the plan but wants to participate in the attack herself. Ace is strongly opposed to the idea, but lets Zara go through a long and tedious series of tests to prove that she is just as skilled as any man before rejecting her from the mission. All the while, Zara and Ace flirt in a nauseating fashion.
Finally, the night of the big attack arrives. Megaforce ride into Gamibia on their bikes and dune buggies and many things are blown up. Unfortunately, the Gamibian government quickly gets wind of the attack and announce that if the Sardoonians allow Megaforce to cross the border, it will mean a declaration of war between the two countries. The only way out of Gamibia for Ace and his buddies is to be picked up by transport plane, and Guerrera's tanks are positioned at the only nearby landing strip to keep the planes away.
Ace leads Megaforce around behind the tanks and they attack Guerrera, providing enough of a distraction to allow the planes to land. Megaforce rushes to the waiting planes, but Ace stays behind for a minute to make a smarmy speech to Guerrera. The planes begin to take off, and Ace must use the special, super-secret button on his dirtbike which causes it to sprout wings and fly. He flies up to meet his cheering pals in the transport plane. The plane flies back to Sardoon and Ace and Zara exchange their patented revolting salute of love and triumph (kissing one thumb, then extending it in a "thumbs-up" gesture.) The audience tries desperately to make it to the bathroom before vomiting.
Megaforce was directed by Hal Needham, a man who made his mark in Hollywood as a stuntman. In fact, Needham may be the most famous stuntman in film history. He designed the first vehicle to break the sound barrier on land, was the first human being to test the automobile airbag, and was the highest paid stuntman in Hollywood for over a decade. He won an Academy Award for his invention of the "camera car," which has been used to shoot chase scenes in innumerable movies. Sadly, Megaforce will forever be a blot on Needham's otherwise illustrious career.
Speaking of blighted careers, Barry Bostwick really stepped in the Megapoo with this one. Bostwick is perhaps best known for is role as Brad Majors in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Bostwick once made some less-than-sensitive remarks about the famously rabid fans of Rocky Horror, who have since taken to calling Bostwick "asshole" at every possible occasion, reportedly shouting the appellation at him whenever he comes out in public. Whatever Bostwick's offscreen sins may have been, he definitely earned his nickname in the role of Ace Hunter.
Admittedly, there are certain things about Ace Hunter that Bostwick probably had no control over. His name, for instance. Or his cheese-souffle-like hairstyle. Or his grotesque, skin-tight costumes. I also concede that he didn't have much to work with in the script. Bostwick, however, brings quite a bit of what we might call "personality" to the role. It's the sort of personality that makes you yearn to break a pool cue over his head. Ace is by turns smug, cocky, obnoxious, and idiotic - not the best combination of traits for a leading man. And I really never wanted to see every contour of Barry Bostwick outlined in a gold spandex jumpsuit. Really, I didn't.
Seeing Ace flirt with Zara only adds to the repulsion. They exchange smoky glances in a variety of situations, including one rather curious scene of flirtation during the act of skydiving. Persis Khambatta's career never really took off after she appeared bald in Star Trek: the Motion Picture, and you can tell from her performance here that she knows her best days are already behind her. Her complete lack of charisma is an interesting foil for Bostwick's over-effusive Ace; when the two share a scene they sort of cancel each other out and it becomes something like watching a test pattern.
Megaforce is one of those films that tries to break stereotypes, but then inadvertently reinforces them. It takes pains to show characters defying supposed expectations, but then the other characters' shocked reactions countermand the effect. (A black guy who likes classical music?! A woman who can fly a helicopter?! The world's gone crazy!!) It's a well-known fact that if you make a big point of demonstrating that you aren't a sexist or a racist, you're probably going to end up looking like one.
The scene near the end of Megaforce featuring Ace's incredible flying dirtbike is one of those movie moments that are difficult to adequately describe. It's so completely unbelievable that it singlehandedly boosts the film up to the next plateau of badness. Seldom have special effects been less special. Do we have a case of bad-movie transcendence here? Indeed, we do.
The last few minutes of this movie are very deceptive, so much so that they actually fooled me - temporarily - into thinking that it had a happy ending. Ace makes his smarmy victory speech to Guerrera in which he states "the good guys always win - even in the 80's." He joins the rest of his Megaforce team amidst cheers of joy, and he and Zara do their stupid thumbs-up thing, faces beaming with happiness. Unless you actually stop and think about it, it seems like our heroes came out on top here. What nobody points out is that, in actuality, Megaforce completely botched its mission, nearly started a war, and fled Gamibia with its tail between its legs. This pokes some serious holes in Ace's little theory about good guys winning, even in the 80's.
Despite the fact that I had no idea what was going on during half of this movie and that on numerous occasions I had to avert my eyes from Barry Bostwick's shiny gold batch, Megaforce has enough goofy entertainment value to make it worthwhile for the bad-movie enthusiast. This is the sort of film in which the needle on the stupidity gauge is in the red zone from start to finish, and the magical flying dirtbike is virtually required viewing for the serious Dregophile. Don't rush right out for this one, but if you happen upon it, don't pass it up.