Tuesday, January 23, 2018

When the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Forces fail

So I watched The Delta Force off my DVR since it's available on DVD and Blu-ray in multiple editions, and Amazon has it in the streaming thing, too.

The movie starts off with a sequence that isn't quite necessary to the movie, but establishes the Delta Force. In 1980, after the Iranians took US embassy workers in Teheran hostage, a plan was hatched to rescue them by sending in helicopters. The plan failed, and eight people died. In the movie, this plan is credited to the Delta Force, with commander Col. Alexander (Lee Marvin) and his second in command Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris).

Fast forward six years. For those who don't remember, the 1980s were a time with a lot of terrorism, especially in Europe. One of the more memorable incidents was that of TWA Flight 847. Hijackers (played in the movie by Robert Forster and others) got on the plane in Athens and hijacked the plane, forcing it to land in Beirut. The plane then went from Beirut to Algiers, and then back to Beirut.

In the movie, the hijackers, being from an Arab terrorist group, want to kill all the Israelis, but there are supposedly no Israelis on board. So instead, they want all the Jewish men. There were a couple of men with Jewish-sounding surnames (Martin Balsam and Joey Bishop, with their wives played by Shelley Winters and Lainie Kazan respectively), a couple of young Navy guys, and a Catholic priest (George Kennedy) who all got taken to the front of the plane, presumably to be treated differently from everybody else.

Anyhow, it's time to call in the Delta Force. As far as they know, there are two hijackers on the plane, which is now heading for Algiers. What they don't know is that at the fuel stop in Beirut, the two hijackers smuggled in about another ten accomplices, making the Delta Force's task much more difficult. The mission in Algiers gets aborted as the plane heads back to Lebanon. However, the hijackers had magnanimously let the women and children off the plane.

Back in Beirut, they deal with the remaining hostages, while Delta Force scrambles to figure out a way to rescue them. This is going to be a bigger problem, as the US was able to get the cooperation of the Algerian government. Lebanon, however, was in the middle of a civil war at the time, and there was no way they'd be able to get in normally.

The Delta Force is very much a movie of two distinct halves. The first half deals with the hijacking up until about the second landing in Beirut, and the second half deals with the Delta Force's rescue operation. The two halves couldn't feel more different. The first half is a generally tense, dramatic, and suspenseful affair, with shades of movies like The Incident when you wonder why nobody fights back. But once the Delta Force lands in Lebanon, it becomes a 1980s action movie, with increasingly ludicrous premises (the motorcycle Chuck Norris' character rides, for example).

Having said that, the action half still entertains and winds up being a lot of fun as long as you know you're getting something that's not prestige movie material. Don't pay too much attention to the acting here since there's not much. Well, fat-era Shelley Winters gets to overact some more which is always enjoyable. And George Kennedy is a more believable priest than OJ Simpson was in The Cassandra Crossing. Acting honors probably go to the actor playing the Greek Orthodox priest in Beirut, a man named Shaike Ophir I'd never heard of. (I don't recognize most of his movies either.) This was a Cannon movie, at a time when the studio was owned by Menahem Golan, so much of the filming was done in Israel and the movie got one of the bigger budgets in the studio's history. It shows, I think.

The Delta Force is ultimately very much a product of the 80s, but also a fun way to spend two hours if you're looking for a popcorn movie.

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