The Delta Force – Far Better Than The Average Cannon Pictures Release

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008. I am publishing it here because Eddie Pence, vice-host of “The Ralph Report” podcast, recommended it on the Video Vault segment much to Ralph Garman’s unhinged annoyance. Frankly, I am with Eddie on this one. This was a lot of fun!

Ahh, “The Delta Force.” One of my many favorite action movies from the 1980’s! Phil Blankenship and Amoeba Music presented a midnight showing of it at New Beverly Cinema. Although the theater was not as packed as usual, the crowd was super excited to see Chuck Norris kicking terrorist ass like we always expect him to.

The first time I saw “The Delta Force,” I was quite surprised at how well made it was. While there are parts of it which are unintentionally hilarious, the first half is actually well written and directed for the most part. The last half is pretty much what you expected it to be, a cheesy action movie with heroics and explosions. But even on that level, it is a kick ass experience.

At this screening, Blankenship welcomed a very special guest from the movie, Natalie Roth. She played Ellen, the young girl with the Cabbage Patch Kid doll, and she took the time to take questions from the audience. She said Norris and Lee Marvin were both very nice to work with and that Marvin was in bad health throughout the production (this ended up being his last film before his death). Roth also talked about watching this movie several dozen times on the silver screen just to see herself. Funny how she was got let into an R-rated movie considering her age at the time, but anyway.

“The Delta Force” comes to us from the purported king of 1980’s action movies, Cannon Pictures. Led by Menahem Golan, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, and Yoram Globus, many of their movies would easily rank in the “so bad it’s good” department while others proved to be utter crap as they were more depressing and pathetic than laughable. They made B-movie stars out of Norris as well as Charles Bronson and Jean Claude Van Damme among others. With all this in mind, you really can’t go into a Cannon Pictures movie with a lot of high expectations. In fact, the lower the expectations, the better. This is why “The Delta Force” is unique in this respect. I usually don’t expect the writing or the acting to be any good in movies like these, and while there is some laughable overacting to be found here, the performances for the most part are spot on.

The film was based on the real-life hijacking of TWA Flight 847 on June 14, 1985, and it uses a lot of those same moments from it like the press conference with the pilot in Beirut. It starts off taking some time to introduce us to the soon-to-be hostages like Shelley Winters and her husband played by Martin Balsam, We also meet Harry (Joey Bishop) and Sylvia Goldman (Lainie Kazan) who are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, Father O’Malley (George Kennedy) and his two sisters from the church, one played by future “NYPD Blue” star Kim Delaney. In addition, we are introduced to the two terrorists who will hijack the plane, and they are played by Robert Forster and David Menachem.

Now having an American actor play an Arab terrorist would be very unlikely in this day and age, but Forster pulls this role off without it ever being laughable. As Abdul, he makes an excellent villain who’s not just another one-dimensional bad guy, but one who is truly threatening to where you believe it when he says he is prepared to die. “The Delta Force” was made back when Forster’s career was heading into oblivion, but he did finally make his comeback with Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” and we have not forgotten how great an actor he is ever since.

Menachem, on the other hand, never knows when to stop overacting. As Moustapha, his eyes open up so wide to where I was convinced they would pop out of his head and ricochet off of a hostage’s head. He is a kick to watch, but his performance did generate a lot of unintentional laughs from the audience at this midnight showing.

Another strong performance comes from Hanna Schygulla who plays the head flight attendant, Ingrid. She is put in a very difficult position as the terrorists force her to pick out the Jews from the passports taken from all the passengers. This is another actor who shows a lot without saying anything, and her close-ups throughout illustrate how she somehow manages to hold it together even when the situation gets worse and worse. I love the moment she has with Forster before she leaves the plane as he perfectly describes her character:

“Ingrid, you’re a brave woman.”

I know I am going to raise a lot of eyebrows by saying this, Norris is not a bad actor. Many think he is flat out terrible, but I disagree. Granted, he is no Laurence Oliver and even he would openly admit this, but as a film actor he has many strong moments. The strength of a film actor is in showing what your character is experiencing without having to spell it out for the audience. Norris has a lot of moments like these, and he is easily a more competent screen presence than others like Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal, both who have since been consigned to direct to video hell. Just look at his face towards the end as he mourns the loss of a comrade. Seriously, you can feel his pain.

Having Marvin in this movie certainly gives it more dramatic heft and believability even when things get increasingly ridiculous in the last half. His craggy face tells you all you need to know about the many tours of duty his character has ever experienced. He is perfectly cast as the unsentimental leader of an elite anti-terrorist force who has no time for pity, and who is always looking out for his men except if he has a timetable to keep.

Before I forget, I have to bring up the film’s score by Alan Silvestri who would later go on to compose unforgettable music for movies like “Back to The Future” and “The Abyss.” This is a classic 1980’s score which chiefly utilized the synthesizers of the time. It is a cheesy score, but I still liked it a lot as Silvestri hits some strong emotional notes, and the theme song is one which will stay with you long after the movie is over.

“The Delta Force” is easily one of the best movies Cannon Pictures could have ever hoped to make. Sure, it led to a lot of crappy knock offs and sequels which nowhere as good. “Delta Force 2” was a direct rip off of Timothy Dalton’s last James Bond movie, “License to Kill.” Sure, it had a great and a truly despicable villain in Billy Drago, but sitting through it was painful and excruciating. The less said about “Delta Force 3,” the better.

After all these years, I think “The Delta Force” holds up very well despite looking more and more dated. True, it is one of those movies which can look at and say, “Only in the 1980’s could you have made this,” but I still get a huge kick out of watching it all these years later. It has also led to some great retro t-shirts which you can still see popping up on the internet every day. You may have seen them here and there, and one of them has this on the front:

“I don’t negotiate with terrorists. I blow them away.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Quentin Tarantino and His March Madness at New Beverly Cinema

Quentin Tarantino New Beverly Cinema photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011.

With his birthday falling on March 27th, actor, writer and director Quentin Tarantino plans to celebrate the month of his birth at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, the same theater he saved from becoming just another Supercuts. The theater’s calendar for March includes a number of exploitation classics, some animated movies that Walt Disney would never have even thought of making, and several other films which are not currently available on DVD. Many of these cinematic experiences are very rare, and it is highly unlikely you will see them anywhere else.

Tarantino ended up making a surprise appearance at the New Beverly on March 1st, 2011 to introduce the first double feature of his month of programming: “Crack House” and “Redneck Miller.” Now “Crack House” was one of the myriad releases from Cannon Films during the 1980’s, and it follows young lovers Rick and Melissa whose relationship gets torn apart when Rick’s brother gets shot to death by a rival gang, and Rick quickly rejoins the gang he left for a better life to avenge his brother’s senseless murder. Of course, this all goes awry when Rick gets sent to prison while Melissa falls in with a drug dealer and gets hooked on crack cocaine.

Tarantino described “Crack House” as being very, very special to him as it came out in 1989, the very last year in which exploitation movies played in movie houses. From when he was young, he talked about making a list each year of the ten best exploitation movies that came out, and among his top picks was George A. Romero’s “Day of The Dead.” “Crack House” got the very last exploitation movie of the year award from Tarantino before these lists were rendered obsolete.

With exploitation movies, Tarantino said we were all attracted to them through their “50’s-ness of juvenile delinquentness.” Basically, these films were the bad boys of cinema, the ones which didn’t follow the rules nor did they ever apologize for being trashy entertainment. From the 1950’s onward, exploitation cinema succeeded in reflecting the juvenile delinquents of each passing decade. But when it came to the 1980’s, these same movies suddenly became unwatchable because, as Tarantino correctly pointed out:

“The 80’s were one fucked up decade!”

But “Crack House” is one of those rare 80’s exploitation flicks which does get better as it goes along. Even Tarantino admitted how shocked he was to find he actually “gave a fuck” about these characters who might seem like stereotypical bad boys to everyone else. The “Pulp Fiction” director also acknowledged the terrific “guest star” cast which included Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft) as a no-nonsense cop, and all-time football great Jim Brown as a vicious drug kingpin.

Tarantino’s brand of March Madness at the New Beverly will culminate in a week long showing of “Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair.” This is the combined version of both films into one single movie which screened at the Cannes Film Festival and has never been seen before in the United States. At four hours long, there was no way New Beverly was just going to show it two nights of the week! However, as I write this, all advance tickets for each night are now sold out (NOOOOO!!!). Your best bet is to get to the theater really early in the hopes you can get in through the standby line.

In any event, here’s to a month of great, unabashed entertainment at the New Beverly Cinema!

Top photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times.