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The Delta Force (1986)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE DELTA FORCE (1986)

Starring: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Robert Forster, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, George Kennedy

Written By: James Bruner, Menahem Golan Directed By: Menahem Golan

The Short Version

Movies like The Delta Force give “ripped from the headlines” exploitation a bad name.

Oops; forgot to add the word “shameless” there.

No real tension, no real drama (though lots of fake stuff), dull action… it not just shameless; it’s lousy.

What’s with the aerobic dance class soundtrack?

If you’re into Chuck Norris or “rah-rah” flicks, go for it, but The Delta Force is a dull movie and makes me angry.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

AMERICAN.

The producers, of course, would like you to take that association in a positive light, but my regular readers know that a great name was given to a very substandard cheese that leaves an oily aftertaste in your mouth… just like what happens with this movie.  Great name, bad taste.


Pairs Well With...

BUDWEISER.

This stuff is passed around with obvious product placement gusto throughout The Delta Force, and why not?  It’s overhyped American mediocrity at its most… boring.

“Do you know who that guy is?  Ugh.”


The one and only smile I got from The Delta Force came courtesy of that line.  And yes, the guy who says it is talking about the one played by Chuck Norris.

I’ll admit it: I’ve never, ever understood the whole Chuck Norris thing.  In the days before he became an infomercial pitch man (some may call them “his prime,” though I say his best work shows up in those infomercials), I always considered him one of the worst actors in the action hero pantheon.  And then when the Chuck Norris internet fad started… why?  Seriously?  Why?  Someone awesome like Dolph Lundgren I could understand, or even Sly Stallone, but… Chuck Norris?

And yes, I understand that for many people, the absurdity was probably the whole point, before things snowballed so that now kids who have never actually seen a Chuck Norris flick are quoting inane “facts” about how he is more uber than everyone else.  But still… Chuck Norris?

Ugh.  Anyway.

If you are part of the grand legion of people for whom Chuck Norris fandom is either ironic or uninformed, do yourself a favor and don’t watch this movie.  Go watch The Octagon instead.  At least that flick can be called fun on a bad movie night, given enough beer.  The Delta Force, on the other hand, climbs on the backs of too many real people to be called fun, though, frighteningly enough, it might still have legs as a recruiting flick for the poorly educated.

Like most movies, The Delta Force includes a disclaimer at the tail end of the closing credits saying that everything’s fiction and that any resemblance to anything real is pure coincidence.  The word you’re looking for here is “bullshit.”  Indeed, had someone pulled the same stunt this movie plays a couple of decades later, I can actually imagine some distraught people suing over this garbage.  What am I talking about, you ask?  For context – which really is required when looking at this film – let’s go back in time.

 The following two paragraphs are real history.

In June of 1985, Arab terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847, originally bound from Athens to Rome.  The plane was diverted to Beirut, then to Algiers, and then to Beirut again.  The terrorists segregated the passengers who had Jewish-sounding names (eventually taking them off the plane and keeping them elsewhere in Beirut), and they murdered a US Navy diver after first beating him severely.  His body was dumped on the tarmac.

The hostage crisis would go on for two weeks before negotiators agreed to meet some of the terrorists’ major demands, in exchange for which the last of the hostages were finally set free.

The following two paragraphs are the central plot of The Delta Force.

Arab terrorists hijack ATW Flight 282, originally bound from Athens to Rome.  The plane is diverted to Beirut, then to Algiers, and then to Beirut again.  The terrorists segregate the passengers who have Jewish-sounding names (eventually taking them off the plane and keeping them elsewhere in Beirut), and they murder a US Navy diver after first beating him severely.  His body is dumped on the tarmac.

The hostage crisis ends quickly, because negotiations are bullshit.  America doesn’t take shit from anyone!  Hell, no!  Instead, they send in the goddamn Delta Force led by Chuck Freakin’ Norris to go kick some terrorist ass and hot damn, they rescue every one of those hostages except that poor Navy man on the tarmac, who apparently still needed to die for dramatic effect.

Um… any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental?  Come on, folks: join me for a rousing chorus of “My Ass!”

Now, is the way it turns out in the movie how most people would have preferred for things to turn out in real life?  Of course it is.  America doesn’t give in, the bad guys get theirs, and (most of) the hostages are still saved.  However, to blatantly rewrite an actual event like that, plot point for plot point, as it were, and release it as a rah-rah recruiting film less than eight months after the real thing is nothing short of disgusting, and an insult to the real people who were still trying to recover from what happened.  Apparently, their own heroic tale of survival wasn’t enough for Hollywood; it needed a damn Chuck Norris-oriented rewrite.

Perhaps you see it differently, but as for me, I find it revolting.  You can say that The Delta Force is “just a movie,” but that close on the heels of real events that it doesn’t even bother to disguise, it is not “just a movie.”  What it is is an open wound.  Would at least a superficial rewrite have been so hard to come up with?  Shame on you, Menahem Golan.  Shame on you, James Bruner.  Shame on you, Chuck Norris.

Undoubtedly (and indeed obviously), a cue was taken from Sly Stallone and Rambo the year before – and Norris’ own Missing in Action the year before that – in terms of playing with history for the sake of patriotic pride, but something very important was missed in the process.  Neither Missing in Action nor Rambo changed a real event; instead, they begged for a change in attitude to hopefully inspire a real event.  (Which didn’t happen.)  Missing in Action and Rambo wanted to write near future history, not rewrite horrible events from the past.  Big, big difference.

Indeed, the founder of the real-life Delta Force (an organization for which I do have honest respect) felt the same way.  When the movie was first conceived, he had been happy to cooperate with the studio as a consultant.  The initial story was to be about a (completely real) mission conducted in 1979 to rescue American hostages held in Iran.  That real mission was a disaster and did not succeed.  There’s no “rah-rah” in failure, of course, so the producers wanted to alter history and have the mission come out as a patriotic success.  Our real-life hero refused to dishonor the real sacrifices made during the course of the real mission (or deny its consequences), and so, disgusted, he walked away.  Then the TWA thing happened, the script got a rewrite torn from fresh headlines, and the original 1979 mission was tossed in as a brief pre-credit sequence, and even allowed to fail just because it gave Chuck Norris a reason to be pissed off.

Maybe, after some distance perhaps amounting to the passage of a generation or two, it might have been able to play as a fictional period piece, but that blatant and that soon?  No.  Again, as it stands, it’s insulting.

And just to add insult to insult, The Delta Force isn’t even a good movie.

Considering that Cannon studio honcho Menahem Golan himself is at the helm, this is especially vexing.  As the boss of a production company best known for bombastic action, Golan should have no trouble making explosions look good, but The Delta Force is dry and unexciting.  There are no real action sequences at all until after the first hour, at which point the audience gets a bone in the form of one of the most boring car chases you’ll ever see that still involves machine gun fire.  Beyond that, the fireworks don’t really fly until an hour and a half in (which is generally the complete attention span of this flick’s target audience, so many are by this point asleep), and by then, not only is it too late, but again, there’s just no excitement generated by the proceedings.  I’m sure someone could have made the rocket-and-mortar launching motorcycle look cool, but through Golan’s camera, it’s a dull prop.  Things blow up, but the scenes carry the same lack of resonance as Shelley Winters shopping in the duty free store at the airport.  Yawn.

Meanwhile, Chuck Norris displays slightly less acting prowess and far less charisma than the average park statue.  He deadpans his way through lines as though they’re just something to get out of the way, only to then wander through action scenes as though they, too, are just something to get out of the way.  He gets two chances to show off some karate – of course – but both occasions are dull and lifeless, especially since his opponents don’t really bother to fight back.  Chuck Norris has literally no screen presence in this movie whatsoever; if you didn’t know who he was going in, you’d probably wonder why anyone would let this guy play a heroic lead.

As for the venerable Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen), he deserves a far better swan song than this.  (The Delta Force was, alas, his final role before he died.)  Instead, he gets to stand there and tell everyone that Chuck Norris is late and that it’s time to go at regular intervals.  Yay.  Meanwhile, the best performance in the movie comes from an actor who should not have been cast.  The script calls for an Arab terrorist, but thanks to a quick perm and some “Let’s Be Swarthy” makeup and skin polish, the studio figured it was all right to cast white guy Robert Forster (The Black Hole) as super-sweaty (and super-swarthy) Abdul.  Despite the fact that Forster handles this truly awful script better than anyone else, this is still all kinds of wrong.

And speaking of that awful script…

While the target audience who came in thinking that The Delta Force would be an action movie are made to wait, all sorts of alleged drama occurs, but really, it’s just items on a checklist.  There’s no tension, and there’s no sympathy generated: there’s just exploitation and anger.  (And it is not anger directed toward the terrorists, either, despite the script’s obvious intentions; it’s anger at the filmmakers themselves for stooping so low with the exploitation checklist.  As with the action, the fact that Menahem Golan is at the helm makes this particularly vexing, given his personal life as an Israeli patriot.  If anyone should be able to draw life and sympathy out of this story, it’s him, but alas…)  Most of the characters play as cardboard cutouts, and the direction lends neither life nor emotional resonance to anything that the script would obviously like to have pluck at a viewer’s heartstrings.

There is exactly one moment in this entire “rah-rah” exploitation festival that has any real emotional resonance, and it has nothing to do with an explosion.  It happens when the terrorists segregate all of the Jewish men on the plane – something everyone knows is not likely to end well – and Father O’Malley (George Kennedy, The Eiger Sanction), an Irish Catholic priest from Chicago, steps up to join them.  When the bad guys try to send him away, O’Malley declares:  “You called for all the Jews.  I'm Jewish, just like Jesus Christ.  You take one, you gotta take us all.”  Forget the bikes with the mortars on the back fenders and forget the machine guns; thanks to the delivery of George Kennedy, that is what powerful heroism sounds like.

It sure as hell doesn’t sound like aerobic dance class music.

Without question, The Delta Force has one of the most inane scores for any action flick (real or alleged) that I have ever heard.  It’s brash synth-pop stuff that sounds like it would be right at home as the backdrop for a Richard Simmons workout, and even worse, it sounds like the same sixty seconds of music are on loop for almost the entire movie.  You’ll get a more somber synth cue when a good guy dies, but beyond that, it’s the same upbeat sixty seconds over and over and over again, until finally the end credits roll and you get the four-minute disco remix.  And we’re supposed to take the drama seriously with that playing in the background?  Um…no.  That’s even more of a stretch than asking us to believe Chuck Norris as a leading actor.

Bottom line, The Delta Force is an abomination.  Not only is it an insultingly blatant rewrite of a real event that took place just eight months before the film’s release, but it’s also just a lousy movie, period.  If you’re looking for action, The Delta Force is way too dull to bother with, and even if you are a real Chuck Norris fan as opposed to being one that just rides the collective joke, this is far from being his finest work.  No matter what way you look at it, there’s something better to watch.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2012


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