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The Nostalgic Attic: The Delta Force (1986)

26 November 2014

The Delta Force (1986)

"They don't negotiate with terrorists... they blow them away!"

I spent a while discussing my lack of interest in Chuck Norris last year, when I watched Missing in Action and was less than enamoured with it. It wasn't just that film, I just hadn't really watched him in anything that made me understand why he was popular. Not to be put off by this, I decided it was time to give another one of his much-loved films a shot. Does The Delta Force hold up any better than Missing in Action?

A group of Lebanese terrorists decide to take over a plane that's leaving the USA, and demand that it be flown directly to Beirut. They inform the government that if their demands aren't met, they'll begin executing the passengers. Led by the merciless Abdul (Robert Forster; The Black Hole, Alligator, Vigilante) They separate all the Jewish passengers, and when they plane lands, they smuggle the Jews off while secretly allowing more terrorists to board.

The USA is left with little option but to call in the tough guys - the Delta Force. Led by Col. Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin; Point Blank, Emperor of the North Pole, Gorky Park) and wild card Major Scott McCoy (Norris), they head to Beirut, only to find that the remaining hostages have been flown to Algiers. After a botched extraction results in the death of a hostage, the force head to the depths of Beirut, hoping to take out the terrorists before the innocent Jews can be executed. Will McCoy be able to save the day? Does he have enough rockets to blow them all up?

The Delta Force is interesting enough, in that the first hour is more of a straight up hostage drama, with the action only kicking in for the final hour. In a way it's quite effective; we have plenty of time to get to know the hostages (there are loads of them) and also time to give even a little bit of humanity to the terrorists (it is minimal, but it's there). In fact, the characters that we get to know the least are the heroes; McCoy is the guy who plays by nobodies rules, and Col. Nick is tough but lovable, and that's it. Nothing more. In a way it doesn't really matter; the film is set up in a way to make you care somewhat about the victims and perpetrators, but ultimately we know it's going to end up with Marvin and Norris shooting and killing every one of those evil bastards before the credits roll - they are the heroes, what else do we need to know? 

This leaves things in that murky area that most of these sort of films from the decade fall into, borderline racist, and fitting in with the mass media perceptions of the time. The fact that you have a blacked-up white American playing the lead terrorist should set off alarm bells, but I won't get too far into this (it's not that kind of blog, in fairness), and to be honest, it's a Chuck Norris movie, so you shouldn't expect too serious a treatment of these issues. Saying that, some of the dialogue from the terrorists is quite interesting, and seems almost more relevant today than it would have back then. No doubt it's something my American friends can relate to.  

What most people will come to this film for is the action, and when it gets going, it's pretty solid. Plenty of shoot outs, explosions and general ass kicking is what you get, right down to Norris riding a bike with rocket launchers built into it. The action still holds up well today in that fun, 'Commando' kinda way, if just not quite as violent. I felt that we could have done with more hand-to-hand combat here (an area that Norris excels at), but it mainly comes into play in the final fight at the end. Also, he doesn't get to do as many dangerous looking stunts as he did in Missing in Action, which I felt was a highlight there. Maybe the producers wouldn't let him, as he had become semi-bankable at this point.

The acting and cast are quite noteworthy, as there are plenty of familiar faces outside of the two leads. Forster, as mentioned, does a good job of playing a Lebanese terrorist (it took a few scenes for me to recognise him), and among the hostages are the likes of Martin Balsam, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn and Shelley Winters, to name but a few. They all do reasonably well in their roles, but ultimately play second fiddle to the explosions and Chuck Norris' beard. Directed and produced by Menahem Golan (who directed Over the Top, and produced dozens upon dozens of huge hits from the era), the film feels almost like a TV movie in the first hour (though the action is mainly restricted to the inside of an airplane) but things take a more visual turn once we get to Beirut. Much of the budget probably went into the huge cast and massive explosions in the climax, so I won't complain too much. Special mention should be made of the rousing theme music by Alan Silvestri - it's a great piece of fist-pumping nonsense that could only have been improved by a vocal cut of the track for the closing credits. A missed opportunity, there.

Overall, the film is definitely worth watching, and would go down a treat with a few beers. It has loads of action, some reasonable drama and was Marvin's final film, which is a pity. Despite his age here, he was a lively fella. Now, if all Norris films are as enjoyable as this, I might actually end up a fan of his... only time will tell.

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At 2 December 2014 at 06:47 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I'm so glad you are starting to see the appeal of Chuck Norris - he was a very dependable source of actiuon entertainment throughout the 80's. His 90's stuff is on the lesser side, and he retreated to TV with Walker, Texas Ranger for about 7 or 8 years - and now he's too old to really do much - though his brief appearance in The Expendables 2 was awesome.

I like Delta Force - the sequels are worth a look too. My very favorite Norris movie is Invasion USA - I hope you check it out sometime soon!

At 3 December 2014 at 07:11 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Craig, while I'm definitely seeing the appeal of some of his films, I'm not sure I'll come around to him as a human being, but I try and put aside those kinda things when watching films, especially older stuff. I have the sequel to this one taped, and I have invasion USA up high on my list - looks like a blast!

At 4 December 2014 at 03:49 , Blogger Wes M said...

John I've started this film a few times now but I've never gotten very far, but having said that, I don't think I was as yet acclimatized to the charms of Chuck Norris or at least Missing In Action and Invasion USA two films I'll enthusiastically vouch for (I think you will love Invasion USA!). So the time seems right to tackle Delta Force. I know Craig is a fan of Norris' early 80's work - we were talking about 1982's Silent Rage recently which Craig rightly pointed out has a plot that bears a similarity to Absurd, so that might be worth checking out. I'm looking thru his filmography now and while nothing leaps off the page from the 90's, there are a handful of interesting films from the 80's worth investigating, along with Silent Rage, I'd like to check out A Force of One (1979), The Octagon (1980), An Eye for an Eye (1981), Forced Vengeance (1982), Lone Wolf McQuade Ranger (1983) Code of Silence (1985) (I remember having a Code of Silence VHS poster on my wall when I was younger, along with whatever random cast offs I could grab from the local videoshop!)

But back to the mission at hand and Delta Force. Your post has whet my appetite to see this one now, and I especially like going back decades later to these films, if only for their political state of mind (I'm thinking of Rambo III as well). You mentioned the film is borderline racist which is entirely expected, politics in action films are usually written in broad strokes anyhow, but considering that Golan and Globus would have been firmly part of the Israeli Establishment, I imagine both would be absolutely diametrically opposed to any notions of Lebanese political struggle! So there's a nice subtext there. Incidentally, I love the pic of Lee Marvin and that incredible face which looks likes it's about to melt off his skull into a sticky primordial pool of goo. I think this was the great bruiser's last film before his premature death in 1987, so I guess Delta Force is one to savor. Fantastic stuff John !

At 5 December 2014 at 00:48 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, thanks for the rec's, they'll definitely go on the list! I'll most likely be sticking with action films from the 80's, as things definitely changed after the likes of Terminator 2. I find the grittiness to the 80's ones is something I still miss to this day in American action films; the sense that a real stunt man was jumping off a car, or taking a chair to the head in a fight scene.

Absolutely, I was definitely aware of Golan and Globus, but as I said, I tend to avoid getting too deep into the politics on these, as they would definitely steer the review into territory I'm not willing to dive into. But yes, it was sadly Marvin's last film, but he seemed pretty fit on camera, despite being miscast (he's far too old for missions!), so maybe it was just good direction to keep him looking agile...

That's hilarious on the Code of Silence poster!


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