Lewis Collins was one of the stars of the TV series The Professionals which was made between 1977 and 1981.
The series established Collins’ action man credentials allowing him to enjoy a brief film career before audiences finally realised he couldn’t act for toffee.
His handful of silver screen appearances included Who Dares Wins, a genuine so-bad-its-good exploitation flick cranked out in rapid order after the SAS stormed the Iranian embassy in 1980.
Collins then went on to star in three low quality European financed action films of which The Commander is the last. Here he plays Major Colby a mercenary hired by Colonel Mazzarini (a near dead looking Lee Van Cleef) an arms dealer fronting for the mob.
Colby’s mission is to kill a corrupt Thai General who’s operating a profitable sideline as drug lord. Unfortunately, he’s gone a bit power mad and started jacking up the price the heroin much to the mafia’s displeasure.
Meanwhile a Government anti-drugs agency headed by Donald Pleasance sets out to infiltrate the mission in order to recover a computer disc with information that’d allow him to bring down the drugs ring.
Pleasance films nearly all his scenes in a non-descript office pretending to unconvincingly smoke a cigar. He seems a bit grumpy, probably because Van Cleef got to film all his scenes with the glorious Amalfi coast as a backdrop.
Colby teams up with a rag tag array of other mercenaries - a series of poorly defined characters - and heads into the jungle. A series of unimaginatively staged action sequences occur before finally Colby arrives at the drugs lord’s base.
Colby and his team blow the hell out of the drugs lord base before resolving the utterly uninteresting computer disc subplot.
Early in the film General Dong, played with pantomime Ming the Merciless gusto, decides to convince the mafia that they should pay by killing their messenger.
He sends him off, purportedly with a list of his new demands, but he’s rigged the emissary’s helicopter with a bomb, operated by the kind of remote control switch you just don’t see enough of 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 General Dong, 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.
The first exploding helicopter is vintage stuff. The explosion itself is neatly handled, with a nice juicy close up of the fireball which fills the screen.
However, the real joy is in this scene’s pointlessness. While General Dong could have simply shot the mafia messenger he chooses instead to establish his megalomaniac credentials by blowing him up once he’s back on his helicopter. Brilliant.
The second helicopter explosion though is altogether more unsatisfying. The missile from the rocket launcher hit’s 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”.
Relevance to plot
The first exploding helicopter is wonderfully irrelevant and unnecessary. The second is unnecessary and has a uninspired, box ticking exercise, feel about it.
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.
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.