Saturday, June 13, 2015

What the Chuck?! The Delta Force

After a nice morning workout it was time to finish up one of Chuck Norris' greatest flicks and successes, 1986's The Delta Force. A full on Cannon production as co-studio head Menahem Golan directed the flick and co-wrote with regular Norris and company collaborator James Bruner. Inspired by the 1985 Trans World Airlines hijacking where Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad members took control of Flight 847 and demanded the release of 700 Shi'ite Muslims from Israeli custody. Passengers of Jewish descent were separated from the others, traveling military personnel were beaten, U.S. Navy Diver Robert Stethem was killed and it took two weeks and intervention from then U.S. President Ronald Reagan along with Lebanese officials to free the remaining hostages. The hijackers original demands were met when Israel released over 700 prisoners. Many of the original perpetrators remain at large while one was arrested in 1987, sentenced to life in prison but paroled in 2005.

In the film, events more or less unfold as they did in reality for the first half. We meet Captain Scott McCoy (Norris) during the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw where poor planning and communication, unexpected conditions and inefficient training ended with the deaths of eight Delta Force members and the failure of rescuing hostages in Iran. Tired of the bureaucrats planning and his men dying, McCoy resigns after rescuing his teammate Pete Peterson (William Wallace) from an exploded helicopter. Cut to five years later and New World Revolution terrorist Abdul (Robert Forster) and one accomplice hijack a plane waving guns and grenades. Passengers with Jewish sounding names are separated, three military divers are beaten and the hostages come to grips with the possibility of dying. Meanwhile the smartass and crusty Colonel Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin) is given the greenlight to make up for Eagle Claw and get the hostages free. McCoy gets the call and rejoins his crew which includes Bobby (the always great Steve James) and Pete. It's a good thing McCoy came voluntarily because Alexander had a Presidential decree ordering him back to service.

While the events that inspired the film are harrowing, frustrating and sad, the film derived is a fantastic time in the 80's vein of action film that no longer exists. In actuality, The Delta Force is a bit of a odd case as it's part docudrama, part deeply cast disaster movie and part ridiculously entertaining action movie. Joining Norris, Marvin, Forster and James are familiar faces from the 60's and 70's like Rat Packer Joey Bishop, 12 Angry Men's Martin Balsam, The Inglorious Bastards' Bo Svenson, The Magnificent Seven's Robert Vaughn and The Poseidon Adventure's Shelley Winters. There's plenty of human drama in the first hour as families are separated, there's flashbacks to the Holocaust, the young Navy diver is killed and dumped on the runway and the Jewish hostages are taken while the women and children are released. This all builds up for a cathartic second hour where the commandos are given the go ahead and resources to bring the hostages home.

After landing in Beirut, the movie veers from history and gives us the story many viewers would like to have seen. Basically, the Delta Force commandos roll in on dune-buggy's and motorbikes to take out the bad guys with extreme prejudice. Like this is how America kicks ass, extreme prejudice. Working with Mossad intelligence, McCoy and Pete infiltrate the terrorist hive where their local contact is taken by Abdul and plunges to his death. His sacrifice doesn't go wasted as Chuck and his buddies do the Damme thing and show up to get the job done. There's three sites where hostages are being held and rolling in under the cover of darkness with blue lights on their vehicles and U.S. flag patches on their shoulders, it's finally showtime. By this point the action takes us by air, land and sea and into the streets. You get a pretty destructive car chase with Chuck hanging out the side firing his Uzi and several jeeps and cars being flipped and exploded. Then there's the mass hostage rescue where McCoy and Bobby blow out the floor from beneath, emerge and waste the terrorists using machine guns and night vision goggles. Plenty of baddies get riddled with squibs and tumble down stairs, Steve James gives a strong thumbs up and Chuck wastes a dude hiding under a bed then delivers "sleep tight, sucker". Outside, the main force attacks with missile equipped motorcycles and dune buggy's mounted with M-60's in a hail of explosions and property damage.

The physical stunts and destruction are pretty incredible. McCoy uses a bazooka to blow up some bad guys then takes a zip line down the building because Marvin's Alexander is in a hurry. Gunfire and squibs destroy rooms and bodies, motorcycles ramp and fly all over the place, flames burn right next to actors, every other car explodes, Norris and James fire bazookas near simultaneously then shake hands and the final big stunt involves Chuck Norris' double chasing a moving airplane, riding on on the seat of a motorcycle, grabbing a rope and climbing's just terrific stuff set to Alan Silvestri's exciting and way overused yet effective electronic score. Then when McCoy catches up to Abdul, it's payback time to the max as Chuck flies in through a window on his motorbike and proceeds to thrash Abdul with punches, karate kicks and Judo throws all over the house through furniture, out a window, smashes his arm in a car door then blows him up with a rocket from his bike. Phew!

Once the hostages are freed and everyone is headed home, the Delta Force hands out cans of Budweiser beer and everyone sings "America, The Beautiful" before coming back to reality as Pete dies from his wounds. With their families waiting, the freed hostages celebrate while Delta Force carries off their dead and heads off to their next mission. I couldn't help but think this would make a great double feature with 1990's Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn starring Navy Seals, another middle eastern terrorist tinged tale of heroism, sacrifice, skill, one liners and showcase of America's ass kicking acumen. Originally set to star Cannon's "two Chucks" Norris and Bronson, the latter fell out over unknown reasons. Probably financial as they both took home up to $5 million a picture. Marvin made his deal within 20 minutes after speaking with Golan and settled for a somewhat paltry $50,000 for 8 weeks of shooting towards the end of his career. Marvin was a much better choice than Bronson at this point as he was still lithe, dignified and trim while Charlie was no longer the granite featured muscleman of his youth.

Opening on Valentine's Day of 1986, The Delta Force grossed nearly $6 million at 1,720 theaters behind Down and Out in Beverly Hills and The Color Purple on it's way to a $17.7 million total. That put it at #50 for the year but would be one of Norris' highest earners alongside Missing in Action, The Octagon, A Force of One and Good Guys Wear Black. 1990's sequel would earn less than half of the original. The Delta Force would be Oscar winner Lee Marvin's final film as he died in 1987. Cool and buff sidekick Steve James would go on to re-team with American Ninja star Michael Dudikoff in Cannon's Avenging Force and Ninja sequel The Confrontation before showing up as Norris' cop buddy in Hero and the Terror. James sadly passed away in 1993. Cannon Films would be on it's last legs as 1987's costly trio of under performers Over the Top, Superman IV and Masters of the Universe along with a crashing bond market spelled doom for the mini-major known for genre and art house films alike.

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