Friday 2 September 2011

The Commander

Lewis Collins made his name with The Professionals. Packed with car chases, fist fights and gun battles, the TV series established Collins as an actor with action man credentials. And when the programme ended in the early Eighties, he was quickly recruited as the lead for a trio of European-financed action films, including The Commander (1988).
Here, Collins plays Major Colby, a mercenary hired by another grizzled soldier of fortune (a near dead looking Lee Van Cleef) who’s fronting for the mob. Colby’s mission is to kill a corrupt Thai General who’s operating a profitable sideline manufacturing drugs. 

Foolishly, the General’s gone rogue and started jacking up the price of heroin much to the mafia’s displeasure. Meanwhile, a government anti-drugs agency headed by Donald Pleasance sets out to infiltrate the mission so he can recover a computer disc with information that’d allow him to bring down the drugs ring. 

Truth be told, it’s uninspired stuff. The action sequences are as exciting as a wet weekend in Margate. Pleasance, normally charismatic actor, was clearly only available for one day of filming and is only seen in a nondescript office without any other actor present. As for the computer disc subplot it’s about as interesting as reading a telephone directory. 

The Commander proved to be Collins last attempt to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, he barely acted again before taking up a career selling office equipment. 

Still, there are some exploding helicopters to report on. 

Early in the film General Dong, played with pantomime Ming the Merciless-style gusto, tries to convince the mafia that they should meet his demands. After meeting with the Cosa Nostra's messenger, he sends him off, supposedly with a list of new demands. 

In actual fact he’s rigged the emissary’s helicopter with a bomb, operated by the kind of remote control device you don’t see enough in movies today. And with one overly theatrical press of the thumb, the mobster is roasted into Peking duck by the chopper fireball. 

Later as Colby and his team head through the jungle to kill the General, they’re attacked by some Thai army helicopters (some suspicious looking stock footage). One of Colby’s team rustles up a rocket launcher and takes out the chopper. 

Artistic merit 

The first exploding helicopter is vintage stuff. The explosion itself is neatly handled, with a nice juicy close up of the fireball. The real joy, however, is the scene’s pointlessness. 

The dodgy General could simply have shot the mafia messenger, but instead he chooses to spectacularly blow him up, thus establishing his megalomaniac credentials. 

The second helicopter explosion though is thoroughly unsatisfying. The missile from the rocket launcher hits the chopper just as it rounds a rocky outcrop. We see a big explosion, but we don’t actually see the helicopter explode. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated? 

Number of exploding helicopters 


Exploding helicopter innovation 

There’s no other way to put this. None. It’s too much to expect innovation in a film which is the cinematic embodiment of the phrase “routine actioner”. 


We should salute any film which destroys helicopters for no good reason and in The Commander two are blown to pieces in rapid order. 


Whilst I enjoyed the old school remote control detonator, the method of both explosions is actually quite uninspired. I’m stamping “could try harder” on director Antonio Margheriti’s report card. 

Interesting fact 

In the German version of the film Lewis Collins is dubbed by another of the actors in the film, requiring in-turn for his voice to be dubbed by someone else.


  1. This looks like a lot of fun! Love some good old-school explosions. Hate CGI explosions.

  2. It's too bad this one's a dud, because I love the title. Have you seen Trekkies? There's a woman Trekkie in that who's a Lt. Commander on some fan Star Trek ship that she and some friends do as a hobby, and everyone at the Kinkos she works at calls her "The Commander". Now, whenever my friends and I see the word Commander, we think of that.

  3. Afraid I haven't seen Trekkies, but I'm sure you're better off thinking of that Commander than this one.