Underrated Action Gem – The Delta Force

You’ve probably heard of The Delta Force; an 80s action blockbuster starring the one and only Chuck Norris, but have you seen it? I’m willing to bet those who answer yeas are in the minority.

Delta Force is little spoken about when it comes to discussing the all time action greats. I don’t ever think I’ve seen it on a list with films like Predator, Commando, Die Hard or Rambo but I’m really not sure why. It has all the elements that make those others great; a charismatic lead, far fetched explosions, brutal fight sequences and America saving the day, but it just doesn’t seem to occupy the same head space as the rest.

The story sees a plane hijacked by Islamic terrorists (in a pre 9/11 world) following which they attempt to start a revolution from the air, leaving Norris to come out of retirement and lead the elite Delta Force unit to bring them down (literally) and end their plot with multiple round house kicks and bazookas!

It may be that the tonal juxtaposition is what proved to be this film’s problem. You see the scenes on the plane are sometimes pretty scary and/or difficult to watch. There is no air of cheesy action fluff and instead the lead terrorist, Abdul, played by Robert Forster is terrifying in his desperation and commitment to his cause. The other passengers are made up of a myriad of great character actors, including Martin Balsam, George Kennedy and Shelley Winters, which means they too convey a great deal of gravitas in the fear and chaos they are experiencing. I really can’t emphasise enough how impressive the execution of the entire hijacking is. It feels so real and the dialogue plays to the thoughts we often have when an event like this happens; one passenger says “there’s only two of them and so many of us, why don’t we do something?” But nobody does. It is chilling and makes you question what you would do in such a situation.

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Do not mess with the man from Del Monte

But then the cheap synthesiser melody kicks in. Played in a major key and sounding like a mixture of the Airwolf theme and the demo track on a £50 Yamaha keyboard, the Delta Force theme plays and suddenly the tone shifts dramatically. It is all about muscle and frowny scowls to show how “serious” the Delta Force really are. There is the talk of Chuck Norris’ Scott McCoy coming out of retirement for a “last job” and everything seems cliche laden to the max. This is what propels the film into laughing territory.

I can only assume that these scenes are what destroyed any chance Delta Force had of being committed to the action hall of fame, and truth be told I wish they had been done differently, but every time we cut back to the plane we are reminded of how serious the stakes really are; proving even more relevant in a post 9/11 world. And if you can just get past the Delta Force’s initial hammy-ness, you are given a world beating last act, featuring all out action and a hugely satisfying resolution.

To go off on a slight tangent, I am always frustrated when the villain of a film gets off without enough punishment. They are either dispatched too easily or get taken off to jail without getting a hint of the justice they deserve. But not so here. Norris’ final showdown with Abdul is one for the ages. It is well thought out, well choreographed and has us as an audience all charged up with enormous satisfaction and sense of justice with every new punch to the face. It also sees Norris riding a motorcycle that shoots rockets from the front handlebar and the exhaust pipe…..need I say anymore?

Norris also makes for a great hero. Much like Walker; Texas Ranger, Norris plays his character as quiet and humble; the kind of guy who you know will only act when absolutely necessary, but when he does go off, does so with deadly force and a clinical approach to battle.

So let’s all band together and make a case for The Delta Force becoming that blockbuster classic it deserves to be. If you haven’t seen it, it is available on Sky On Demand or for very cheap on Blu Ray. Watch it, then thank me, then watch Delta Force 2 and thank me slightly less.

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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