Say what you will about First Blood Part II’s bombastic attempts at catharsis in the wake of the Vietnam war, at least it never contained a scene where John Rambo used his sweat-sheened, all-American biceps to forcibly rip open a wormhole in time and travel back to 1971 to win the conflict all by his lonesome. While this also never happened in The Delta Force, the Cannon Group’s 1986’s team up between Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, there’s a distinct feeling that the movie was trying to rewrite history after the harrowing, real life hijacking of TWA Flight 847. Subsequently, To say that The Delta Force’s grasp of global politics is tone deaf is probably an insult to anyone with a hearing disability, as it attempts to put a jingoistic reimagining on an act of global terrorism that was barely a year old. As a result, you may wonder who could be so callous to even consider such a project?
Well, to quote the old advert: If anyone can, Cannon can…
A couple of Lebonese terrorists hop aboard a flight from Cairo to New York City and subsequently hijack the plane, 144 passengers and the crew in the name of the New World Revolutionary Organisation. The leader, Abdul, a shrewd, cold blooded strategist clad in a suit that looks borrowed from Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero, rules his captives with an iron fist (that’s helpfully also holding a hand grenade) and the tension only made all the worse when he finds out that the passenger list contains Jewish names.
While Abdul gets the massively haired air attendant (seriously, her beehive is stunningly gargantuan to the point of being distracting) to separate the Jewish males from the rest of the hostages in order for them to meet heinous ends, Colonel Nick Alexander assembles his Delta Force and waits for a presidential order to go in and resolve the situation with grit, determination and a fuck ton of uzis, but before he does, he’s rejoined by Major Scott McCoy who resigned after a clusterfuck of a mission five years prior.
As the plane is diverted to Beirut, the Jewish hostages are smuggled off while twelve more terrorists make their way on and thanks to this new development, impossibly grizzled colonel formulates a plan to save everyone he can.
Along with this, it also certainly helps that McCoy is an absolute and utter beast at removing terrorists of this mortal coil with extreme prejudice and handily also owns a motorcycle that shoots rockets from the front and rear that you suspect is on loan from G.I. Joe – and so Delta Force heads out to kick inordinate amounts of terrorist ass to save the day and “avenge America’s honor” (that last bit is actually on the DVD blurb…).
If you remove The Delta Force from history, it is quite a fun, if admittedly witless, typical Chuck Norris action romp with liberal uses of side-kicks and bazookas happening all over the place; but when placed side by side with the actual hijacking, things start to get somewhat uncomfortable. You see, the script decides to follow the real events disturbingly closely, which wouldn’t be a problem if we were dealing with a taunt, realistic, nail biting adaptation of events that had been turned into a tense political thriller, a la Paul Greengrass – however, take it from me, director Menahem Golan may have been the co-owner of Cannon, but he’s certainly no Paul Greengrass. Creepily aping a lot of the actual events of the real hijacking, the man who went on to direct the Sylvester Stallone arm wrestling drama Over The Top manages to create a strange, stitched together Frankenstein of a film with the first half acting as cruel reconstruction that discombobulates the viewer with the sight of cult fave Robert Forster sprayed brown and repeatedly pistol whipping a string of women in the face all in the name of escapist entertainment as a noticably starry supporting cast including stalwarts Shelly Winters and George Kennedy look on. However, when the film switches gears and shoves the perpetually scowling beard of Chuck Norris into the forefront, the film becomes a flag waving example of patriotic wish fulfilment that sits uneasily with the true events that inspired this gung-ho explosion fest.
To maybe put some of these cinematic decisions into some sort of context, it is worth remembering that director/co-writer/co-producer Golan is himself Israeli and that he and his cousin once gave a shit ton of money to Tobe Hooper to make a film about nude space vampires ravaging London, so it kind of makes sense that this is how the filmmaker would choose to approach things with such a “let’s go get them” kind of mindset. To give the movie it’s due, the goofy action stuff is genuinely fun in a crass, Team America sort of way while the mostly interchangeable, cardboard cutout Delta Force (featuring a blink and you’ll miss it appearance of Liam Neeson!) blow up everything in sight as Lee Marvin stares on incredulously why Norris’ stunt man zips down a wire, machine gunning terrorists as he goes. As the bizarrely endearing, upbeat theme tune (provided by none other than Alan Silvestri) is blared out at literally every given opportunity, Norris remains as impressively un-emotive as ever while Marvin (in his last film role) looks more exhausted than world weary as pyrotechnics explode around him, but the fact that the movie steers so close to the truth at times it’s like the 80’s equivalent of Michael Bay making an action movie about the events of 9/11 and then cutting immediately to Jason Statham blowing up Bin Laden with a nuke shooting jet ski or something.
Taken as a mere, empty headed Chuck Norris face puncher, The Delta Force is more impressively cast and handsomely mounted than your average flick that features action cinema’s most immovable beard, but when considering the bigger picture, you can’t help feel that it’s all in terrible taste. Having its hero solve the world’s problem with an uzi and a one-liner (“Sleep tight, sucker!”) may be funny in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way, but to quote that meme featuring Ant-Man & The Wasp’s Jimmy Woo, it’s an oversimplification of events that takes the rewriting of history a couple of steps too far.
Definately one for the Chuck-it bucket…