Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Delta Force

I randomly got the whim to watch The Delta Force for the first time in at least fifteen years. I recall seeing it as a Saturday matinee in 1996 or so on a FOX station. It struck me the film might take on a different meaning in the post-9/11 era. Alas, it only took about twenty minutes of film before I remembered it is too shallow to make any kind of real statement.

The first half The Delta Force is based loosely on the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985. Some of the real events which are fictionalized for the film are the Cairo-Athens-Rome flight path, there were two hijackers with a third arrested in Athens, flying between Lebanon and Algiers to impede any rescue attempts, a German stewardess is asked to separate the Jews from the other passengers by passport names, a Navy pilot tortured, murdered, and thrown onto the tarmac, and passengers being taken off the plane and hidden in sites around Beirut.

I have mixed emotions about the first half. There is nothing wrong with a dramatization of real events, even one that comes soon after the event it dramatizes. Perspective may suffer. A lot of films like that do not age well as history reveals more of what really went on. In terms of The Delta Force, I wonder two things. One, how does Uli Derrickson, the real Flight 847 stewardess, feel about her ’portrayal? Derrickson served as translator because German was the only common language between the terrorists and any passengers, she hid the Jewish passports in an effort to save the Jews, and paid for jet fuel herself in Algiers when officials refused the terrorists’ demand for a free fill up. Two, how does the family of murdered navy diver Robert Stethem feel about how his fictional counterpart was brutalized and murdered?

The reason I wonder about those two points is not because they are presented in The Delta Force, but the second half of the movie is so bad, it cheapens what happened to the real people involved. The similarities to the TWA 847 hijacking end with a completely fictional, outrageously jingoistic war in downtown Beirut that does not elevate itself beyond Rambo-level sincerity. At one point, Chuck Norris has a fistfight with one of the escaping terrorists, then blows him up with a missile firing motorcycle. A Japanese made Suzyuki, no less. The real TWA 847 crisis ended without a rescue. The Delta Force resolves the crisis with an Entebbe like assault that plays out like a revenge fantasy. Indeed, the beginning of the film is about the failed rescue of the embassy hostages in Iran, so there is a notion from the beginning the film is making up for not kicking terrorist butt when we had the chance.

There were some bits that were laugh out loud absurd. The terrorists are incredibly tough when brutalizing hostages, but act like completely stereotypical wusses when the Delta force attacks. Not to say terrorists are necessarily tough. They are attacking unarmed civilians, after all. But it is made out to be the American military is completely invincible and the terrorists know it. I believe in the US armed forces, but come on. War is brutal. American soldiers get killed. The violence needs to be presented more seriously.

The second absurd moment is small, I suppose, but it completely destroys the tension. The Delta force has to load up nearly 200 rescued passengers onto the plane in broad daylight with both militias and civilians shooting at them. Somehow, they manage to do this. With no one getting shot, even though some passengers are elderly and/or wounded already. The delta Force are the last to get on the plane. They are in such a hurry to escape gunfire, the staircase are removed before every can get in, so some have to jump. Those on the plane dangle a rope down so the remaining stragglers can climb aboard as the plane starts rolling down the runway. Amid all this panic, a stewardess is calmly making coffee. I know it is dumb, but that is an unintentionally hilarious moment at a time when the screws ought to be tightening.

Do not even get me started on Chuck Norris’ catching up with the speeding plane on his missile equipped Suzuki and acrobatics in order to get onboard right before it takes off. I have already stopped thinking and just try to enjoy the movie long before that point. I also try not to remember this was Lee Marvin’s last film. I am certain the pain of starring in it finally killed him.

The Delta Force is a dumb action movie. It attempts to generate the same feeling of American pride in viewers as Red Dawn. It fails in that regard, but if you enjoy mindless violence and rah rah jingoism, check it out. The Delta force has a lot of red meat if that is your thing. For me, it is just a mediocre action flick. It is Shakespeare compared to its two sequels, however. But those are for (perhaps) another time.

Rating: ** (out of 5)


  1. Man how I loved, and still love, Red Dawn.

    I remember as a kid watching the Russians(?) parachuting outside the classroom and shooting everyone and being scared out of my mind.

    I watch it today, and see it's campiness yet still love it.

    The cast in that movie made some of my all time favorite movies...The Outsiders, Breakfast Club etc.