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Revisiting the Classics: The Delta Force

With the wife and baby out of town for Friday night, plus the lack of a hockey game that interested me, I decided to settle down with a couple of beers, some left overs, and find a shitty movie to watch on television. The problem that I was having was that of all the movies that were on, none of them were quite shitty enough or were too bad to even tolerate a watch. Then I found it, on Encore at 00:30 the 80s classic, and personal childhood favorite of mine: The Delta Force was airing. Starring Chuck Norris it is one of those quintessential action movies that toes the propaganda line so closely one wonders who actually wrote it. Thus begins the second weekly series of this blog. On Sunday I am going to destroy my childhood memories in only a way that George Lucas can by rewatching the movies I thought were awesome when I was 7 and see how they hold up 24 years later.

Chuck Norris, is many things and I’m not going to rehash the internet meme regarding him, nor the chapter from the Maddox book; but one of those things was that in the 80s he was the man. I identify action movies in the 1980s with either him or Charles Bronson. The other thing was that Chuck Norris was the real deal as far as martial arts are concerned. A student of Japanese Karate, his first movie appearance was with Bruce Lee in Return of the Dragon. Norris was better suited than many of the later action stars because of this and was probably influential in starting the careers of Van Damme and Segal because of his star power.

The Delta Force is a special company of American Army soldiers. For awhile the US Government wouldn’t admit their existence due to their specialty which was counter terrorism. They took part in the Battle of Mogadishu (the book/movie: Black Hawk Down) and were rumored to have participated in the assassination of Pablo Escobar. There isn’t too much detail that I can give regarding the actual Delta Force but I know enough to judge the movie.

The movie takes it’s inspiration from two historical events. The hijacking of TWA flight 847 in 1985 and the hijacking of Air France flight 139 in 1976. In neither event was an American force present, but the hijacking themselves proved that Islamic fundamentalists were both willing and capable of hijacking planes and that something needed to assure the American populace that the US could do something. Both hijackings were abated, in the latter the terrorist’s demands were met while in the former Israeli army commandos freed the hostages.

The movie combines the ordeal of the passengers from the 1985 with the rescue from 1976. Only this time the Norris and company lead the way. This film is also Lee Marvin’s last movie, which is fitting since this is his type of film.

I am restating from earlier that this movie has a whole bunch of propaganda elements to it. It’s tough guy Americans raiding and storming foreigners who would dare to hurt American citizens. Although no one in the movie acts unilaterally, Delta Force gets permission from Israel to use their land and vehicles for the raid, they work with Mossad, and assist in rescuing foreigners all in the name of the good ole USA. The only thing missing from this movie were bad guy Russians, but the threat here isn’t Communism it’s Islamic Terrorists.

Could this movie be made now? Probably, although the movie makers would have to deal with the politically correct fall out from calling a spade a spade. The airliner is hijacked by Robert Forrester in “Arab Face” playing Abdul (how freekin’ original), he wants to make a name for himself as a terrorist and thinks that if he can deliver the airliner to Beirut (which at the time was a mess due to religious fighting), he can win the favor of the Ayatollah in Iran. The Ayatollah was the second biggest bogeyman for the US in the 80s, so it makes sense that Abdul would want this. What doesn’t make sense is why Abdul didn’t just fly to Iran in the first place? His militia controls an area of Beirut, but it’s only one area and an area that the US and Israel know of, so he gets a strike in the “Dumb-shit Villain plan” column.

The terrorists force an airline stewardess to identify the Jewish hostages which are then separated from the others. Three US Marine passengers attempt to thwart it resulting in one of them being shot and killed. Then Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris are called in, and you know the shit is going to get real.

The rest of the movie is standard action movie plot devices, training montages, intelligence planning, although there is some focus on the terrorists themselves. This I found unique because it didn’t show them as America Hating monsters, you get the impression that they really believed they were doing the right thing. The movie is eerily observant of this, which I doubt most people understand about actual terrorists. Sure some of them are about money and power, but what gain is there for the suicide bomber?

Anyway the Americans formulate their plan and begin to execute it. The rescue operation is based on the 1976 hijacking and the “Operation Entebbe” which freed the hostages. This was made into an excellent movie called “Operation Thunderbolt” which may have starred Charles Bronson. “Entebbe” stormed the airport of Uganda, under Idi Amin, which rescued 130 hostages, destroyed the infantile Ugandan Airforce, and basically put Amin in his place. Only one Israeli Commando died in the raid, it was by all accounts a success.

The Delta Force operation goes much the same way, they storm three different places simultaneously looking for the hostages and gunning down the terrorists. One scene has Abdul talking on the radio as the attack is commencing addressing the American who just killed his captain. Norris says, “message received,” and then shoots the radio. Pure delight there. The raid itself is odd because for a super secret commando group they make a lot of noise, always stopping to chat. They also have some gear anomalies, all of the members of Delta wear a white rope across their chests, which may be practical but stands out like white on black (which it is). Their scuba gear is bright yellow instead of black which again should give them away, I’m guessing the SCUBA company that supplied it wanted the logo to be shown but it just doesn’t make any sense.

They also lack sound suppressors on their Uzis in an inconsistent manner. The night time raid begins with a sneak attack in which none of the weapons are silenced, but the daytime attack on the airport all of the Commandos have them. I don’t get that at all. I also like the missiles on the dirt bikes, which seems to be trying to pander to the Bond fans, but is just plain silly.

Given that this is the 80s and an action movie we need the showdown between hero and villain. Forester against Norris, it’s hard to watch because the fight is one sided and just makes Norris’s character seem cruel. Abdul isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t stand a chance, and repeatedly Norris just beats on him until he dies. It’s as bad as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV against Apollo (who I think plays a roll in this movie), you just want Norris to leave on his dirt bike, but he inexplicably shrugs the rendezvous to beat on this man. He could have just shot him and been done with it but that’s just not good enough.

Does it hold up? The short answer is no. It was fun to watch but not in the way it was intended to be fun. The equipment and the gun fights are so over the top that it’s hard to take it seriously. For example they run a car into a truck carrying water bottles and that explodes! Which is as bad as the wagon in Van Helsing. The planning and plight of the hostages was far more interesting than the star of the movie. Especially when it gives commentary. One hostage, a Jew named Goldman comments that Beirut used to be the Las Vegas of the Middle East. Implying that terrorism and radical fundamentalism have destroyed the city. Other than that the movie is laughable, belonging in the ultra-patriotic bin with movies like Navy SEALS, and Top Gun.

It’s so bad it’s ridiculous, which is a stark contrast to what I thought of this movie as a child.

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