The Delta Force (1986) – A Review
A Lebanese terrorist (Robert Forster) takes control of a plane loaded with passengers. He demands the plane to be rerouted to Beirut. Now, it’s up to Col. Alexander (Lee Marvin) to call in his Delta Force to kill the terrorists and rescue the hostages. Luckily, he’s also got Major Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris) on his side who will be more than capable of racking up the body count of baddies.
The Cannon Groups reign during the 1980’s mainly consisted of low-grade, genre films. The Delta Force was something of a ‘prestige picture’ for them at the time. It’s got quite the impressive cast. Along with our leads there’s also a supporting cast that look like a roster from a 70’s disaster movie. Shelley Winters, George Kennedy, Lainie Kazan, Robert Vaughn, Joey Bishop and Martin Balsam (one of my favorites).
The story was inspired by the real life incident of a plane hijacking and it’s twisted into a bit of wish fulfillment having one of the decades most popular action stars come in and save the day.
It’s a strange movie.
For the first half we’re locked in the airplane with Forster and his terrorist partner. It looks to be setting the stage as an intense dramatic thriller. The selection of Jewish passengers, the German stewardess who struggles calling out their names, Kennedy as a priest who decides to go along with the selected Jews and is willing to subject himself to whatever persecution awaits them. It’s heavy stuff.
It all feels real and unsettling. This doesn’t feel like a fun bone-crushing Saturday night 80’s actioner. The single execution of a hostage in the first half is a jolt and is really more powerful than anything that comes in the second half of the movie.
Ah yes, the second half. That’s where things completely shift gears and fans get the Norris movie they’ve been looking for. Deaths and guns quickly turn into cartoonish exercises. Norris and his team machine gun down hundreds of terrorists, they pick up bazookas and blow up countless vehicles, Norris rides around on a motorcycle with rocket launchers laying waste to anyone that is a bad guy.
It is a really strange movie! It’s like they took two movies and mixed them together. A cold real life thriller combined with a silly actioner – and neither one helps the other out. They kind of miraculously negate each other.
Its early serious tone is undone by cartoony action. Watching Norris swing from cables machine gun firing and leaping his motorcycle over gates and tossing off a few one-liners dampens that unsettling tone from the first half.
That stuff would have worked fine in more of a lightweight actioner, but here it just feels frivolous. It’s like they got the film reels mixed up with this thing.
Had the movie focused more on being a bit more of a brainless shoot-em-up flick and dropped its unpleasant pseudo-realism, The Delta Force might have been more entertaining. Just make it a live-action version of G.I. Joe and have fun! Or if they wanted to present a dramatization of a hijacking do that and follow it through with more grounded negotiations and a rescue mission. Leave the Norris action movie for a separate flick. Trying to do both at the same time did not work at all.
It’s crazy what a contrast deaths are presented in each half. We’re upset and emotional seeing the innocent Marine being executed by Forster, yet Norris and the Delta Force lay waste to an entire town and we’re supposed to cheer.
The film tries to establish the reasons and beliefs of why Forster would take upon this evil act, but it doesn’t go as deep into it to really humanize him. It’s not like we ever fully understand his rationale and certainly aren’t too bothered when he’s blown to smithereens by Norris. We’re supposed to applaud during that part.
The movie wears its American flag proudly. The end with the rescued hostages and the Delta Force singing ‘America the Beautiful’ is not subtle at all! It’s clear who the good guys are meant to be here.
It is not a fun movie. Norris isn’t particularly charismatic and the action he does do isn’t that exciting. I love Marvin and it’s a shame this was his final performance. This was such a standard role for him he doesn’t need to exert himself at all. He easily brings his natural authority to the part for what its worth.
Forster does a pretty good job playing a Lebanese terrorist. Looking at him in other roles I would be hesitant to buy him in this part, but he pulls it off. I’m sure most of the older cast were happy to have the work, and the airplane scenes offer them some opportunity for some bits of dramatic acting.
I’ll say it yet again – I have always found this such a strange movie! I’m not sure it completely satisfies any viewer for what they’re hoping to see.
The Delta Force theme is the one thing I always liked from this. The movie itself, not so much.
The Delta Force Theme Song by Alan Silvestri. Totally 80’s and meant to make you want to stand up clap and cheer! I believe Nascar used it for a time as their opening song. If you know of any other places it’s popped up shout em out! Or even suggestions of where else it should be used would be fun! This could make even the most mundane activity dramatic and fun! Hearing this during your morning commute would make it feel like you were embarking on a real adventure!