A guilty pleasure from my teen movie viewing years, Delta Force stills holds up well -kind of.

Last night I was flipping through cable channels when I caught a glimpse of a movie which I have not seen in ages. It isn’t in my DVD library, although a few other Chuck Norris movies are –Forced Vengeance, Lone Wolf McQuade, The Octagon and Code Of Silence But here it is, The Delta Force. I have occasionally noticed the DVD for sale in that absurd, annoying new DVD bottomless round pit at Wal-Mart (anyone ever seen this and went digging? you have my sympathies) and I probably won’t muster up the courage to buy it. Not unless they remaster the thing in the 1:85 aspect ratio and a few extra goodies on it. In any case, I say to myself I’ll change the channel. I don’t.

I simply had forgotten that even though the action of the film is standard B-movie fare and nothing spectacular, it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t as good as other 80s actioners Chuck Norris was in, but at least The Delta Force is watchable. On top of that, there is one element that makes the picture stand out- and hold up- to this day.

Terrorists take over a plane only to face off against Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris in 1986's 'The Delta Force'

That one element isn’t Scott McCoy (Norris) and rockets modified to a great looking bike, which will result in many terrorist thugs and equipment getting blown to kingdom come. It’s the hostages- and the terrorists- on the plane. As corny and borderline exploitative as the first half of the film is, I have, over the years, applauded this film for doing this. It is a rare thing. True, most of the characters on the plane will be mostly background characters by the time Lee and Chuck shoot up Beriut – but a little bit of time is spent with the bad guys (led by Robert Forester- say what you all want, he was really good in the film) and the passengers.

The is a major scene which sets up a number of events in motion. It is one of the biggest criticisms of the film. That’s when the terrorists collect goods from the passengers and discover a ring with a Hebrew inscription on it. As a result, they demand every passenger hand over their passports, and for the Germanstewardess to collect them. The German stewardess then refuses, as she rambles on about the events of World War II and The Holocaust. While the reason feels over the top and strains credibility to some viewers, I never had much of a problem with it. Yes, it’s a bit much to suggest that the stewardess would feel guilty over it. But I always considered it two ways: there either must be something in her backstory that would make her protest in that way, or, it’s an excuse NOT to help the terrorists.

In collecting the passports, it sets up the fact that at least one couple (played by Martin Balsam and Shelly Winters) were survivors of a WWII concentration camp. The fear of terror is well played in these scenes. We see a “touching” moment where a father is taken from his daughter, and the Priest (George Kennedy) stepping up to comfort and support his friend who was mistaken as Jewish. In collecting passports, the identies of the off duty Navy divers are also discovered.

Call this stuff cheesy if you want. Call it dumb if you must. But who needs Chuck Norris or the late Lee Marvin? Here you have “normal” non-action film characters who face a threat of death, and yet, they stand up to the bad guys. Not by shooting a gun, but with CHARACTER. This is what makes (or should have made) The Delta Force a watchable film. We now have some emotional involvement with some of the passengers.

If Chuck Norris hits the water, the sharks stay away.

The movie was made fast; it was promptly put together a year after a real life TWA hijacking in 1985. There was also some reference to the failed 1979 Delta Force rescue of the hostages that were taken in Iran.
When I watched The Delta Force again, I wondered what better film it could have been if Menhem Golan- the co-founder of Cannon films and the co-writer and director of the film- had simply stuck to the plane.

Instead, the plot does something nutty: I still cannot figure out how the original hijackers got off the plane with nobody seeing, and I thought as menacing as they were the “re-enforcements” upped the stakes quite well. The surviving Navy divers (bad guys killed one of them), the Priest and the Jewish prisoners are escorted with some of these new nasty fellows and split up in different locations around Lebenon. Now, after a botched rescue attempt, The Delta Force, led by Marvin and Norris, go into action.

What you see is what you get- make no mistake, it is pure revenge fantasy. There is, on the surface, nothing wrong with that. These are the movies after all. A real life threat or killer will always face some sort of justice by the end of the film, usually by the hands of an indestructible action star or a team of commandos, or in this case, both. The takedown of villains is swift and effective. It caters to our deepest revenge fantasy. Don’t take my word for it- when the job is done, beer is passed out, and the survivors sing out a patriotic song…as the only member of the team who was shot, dies from his wounds. The Priest then quotes scripture- something I confess I missed all those years ago. (“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”-John 15:13).

There is a part of me that liked the film for it’s goofiness and Norris one-liners (“Loud and clear” he says as he destroys the radio, after one of the terrorists asks him on the other end ‘Can you hear me, American?’) make it entertaining, but there is that part which I refuse to put it in a video DVD collection. I discovered that answer last night.
The first half of the film was corny but special, serving up cliches that a viewer can still hang a hat on. There’s nothing wrong with tugging on our basic heartstrings. Problem is, aside from one scene where a terrorist makes a threat against America, the hostages are nothing more than window dressing.

It’s time to blow stuff up and kill off an entire terrorist army.

Maybe we need a film like this right now. We need a good action fantasy, good or bad, or somewhere in between that is political as it is propaganda. Some of us would rather settle for the real thing, with the war on terror finding itself face to face with US forces and a ton of firepower. But until that time, why not?