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 (1977-1983) established Collins as an actor with action man credentials. So much so, that he got to enjoy a brief film career before audiences finally realised that he couldn’t act for toffee. 

His handful of silver screen appearances include Who Dares Wins - a so-bad-its-good exploitation flick cranked out after the SAS stormed the Iranian embassy in 1980 - and three European-financed action films of which The Commander is the last. 

Here, Collins 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 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 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 while pretending, unconvincingly, to smoke a cigar. Colby teams up with a series of poorly defined characters, sorry, a rag tag group of mercenaries and heads into the jungle. 

A series of unimaginatively staged action sequences follow before Colby finally arrives at the drugs lord’s base. Colby and his men blow up the villain's lair before resolving the utterly uninteresting computer disc subplot. 

 Early in the film General Dong, played with pantomime Ming the Merciless 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 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. 

Artistic merit 

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 simply have shot the mafia messenger he instead establishes his megalomaniac credentials by spectacularly blowing him up. Brilliant. The second helicopter explosion though is altogether more 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 

Two. 

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. 

Positives 

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

Negatives 

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.

3 comments:

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

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  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.

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

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