Saturday 25 April 2015

Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection

Has there ever been a more unlikeable actor than Chuck Norris?

Taciturn, charmless, and with a cigarette paper-wide emotional range, Chuck somehow managed to maintain a 30-year career as a Hollywood star. All while looking like a lion forcibly mated with a squat female bodybuilder.

Despite such barriers to success, audiences flocked to his films. And sadly for Exploding Helicopter, he’s the charisma vacuum at the heart of Delta Force 2 (1990).

A sequel to the jingoistic, patriotic tub thumper The Delta Force, Norris returns as Colonel Scott McCoy the taciturn, charmless Special Forces commander with an emotional range as wide as a cig…….. oh, you can guess the rest.

The plot

America is flooded with cocaine, so Chuckie Boy is given a secret mission to capture drug baron Ramon Cota (Billy Drago), who’s holed up in the fictional South American country of San Carlos. The assignment has extra piquancy for Norris as Cota brutally killed his friend.

Now, those with more inquisitive minds may be wondering where, given the title, Colombia fits into all this. All I can say is, don’t trouble yourself with trifling details like that. Certainly, no-one involved in making this film did.

Who the hell’s in this? 

Our star is Carlos Norris (as he doesn’t like to be known). Never the most demonstrative of actors, Chuck is in particularly inexpressive form here.

During the film our hero has to watch a video of his best friend being cold-bloodedly murdered by the evil Cota. So, how does Chuck react to this horrifying moment? Does his tormented face portray the frustration and helplessness his character must feel as he witnesses his buddy slowly expire?

In a word: no.

Instead, Chuck stares blankly at the TV screen looking for all the world like a man waiting for the Ceefax page to change. And the Norris-nator’s leaden performance is not helped by the wildly divergent acting chops on display elsewhere.

As drug-lord Ramon Cota, Billy Drago gives a film-stealing turn of pantomime villainy. Listlessly lolling around his hideout, drawling his dialogue with theatrical relish he comes across like a homicidal lizard.

But Drago is made to look a modicum of restraint in comparison to B-movie stalwart John P Ryan, who plays Norris’ boss General Taylor. Twisting the over-acting dial to eleven, Ryan’s wildly eccentric turn appears to have no relevance to the film, the dialogue or even the part. He may be one of the good guys, but he’s potentially more nuts than anyone Norris is looking to bring to justice.

Chuck working through his emotional issues
The good

In case you thought Chuck was completely unmoved by the sight of his friend being sadistically killed, we do get a scene where he works through his grief and inner pain.

The weirdy-beardy decides to exorcise his demons and find emotional peace by beating up his entire Delta Force squad in an extended training montage.

"Feeling better?" Asks Chuck's boss as the battered bodies of the entire troop lie broken and scatted across the ground.

“Yes,” he replies. “But they’re not.”

What a nice guy.

The bad

Many a bad actor (John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al) has been saved by a director savvy enough to accentuate their stars strengths while hiding their flaws. Unfortunately, John Ford and James Cameron were unavailable to direct Delta Force 2, so instead the film is left in the dead hand of Aaron Norris. Hang on, that surname sounds familiar....

Yup, you've guessed it. After 15 profitable years working as his brothers’ stunt double, Aaron was – in a shameless act of nepotism – elevated to the role of director. While Norris Jr. may know how to fall from the top of a building or jump through a window whilst on fire, it’s abundantly clear he hasn’t a Scooby about how to direct or edit a film.

Under his control, seemingly straightforward scenes take on peculiar, unintended tones, as the camera inexplicably lingers on actors after they’ve delivered their lines. In places, all the awkward pauses and silences make you wonder if the brothers Norris were trying for a Pinteresque deconstruction of the human condition. Though, of course, it's also possible they simply didn’t know what they were doing.

The unwatchable

Against some stiff competition, perhaps the worst thing in this movie is Norris minor’s obsession with slow motion. I'm not sure Chuck delivers a single punch or kick without the frame being slowed to a crawl.

For fans of bone-crunching beat 'em ups, this Chuck-with-the-brakes-on routine becomes irritating. The easiest thing to do is just press fast-forward, which restores the fights to something resembling a normal speed.

Exploding helicopter action

Everyone's favourite form of fiery aviation doesn't arrive until the end of the film.

As Chuck attempts to make his getaway from Cota’s compound he’s pursued by a helicopter piloted by General Olmedo, a corrupt army officer who’s in cahoots with Cota.

Chuck Norris with the 'mad as a ship's cat' John P Ryan
When the car Chuck’s driving is crippled by rocket fire from the chopper, it looks like the game is up. With Chuck in the centre of his crosshairs, Olmedo – in typical villainous fashion - chooses to savour the moment and fatally pauses before administering the kill. (A familiar plot device taken to a high art by the Bond films).

The delay allows Chuck’s buddy General Taylor, piloting a helicopter of his own, to sneak up behind Olmedo and blast his opponent out the sky with a rocket. Having done the hard work the bonkers General gets to deliver the kiss-off line: “Bye-bye asshole.”

Artistic merit

Surprisingly, it’s pretty darn good. A lustrous, large fireball fills the screen. And while the scene is simply constructed and a tad predictable it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Innovation is not a concept that’s ever been knowingly embraced in a Chuck Norris film.


In recent years, Chuck Norris has become the subject of a famous internet meme. You know, that seemingly unending list of statements that attest to Chuck Norris’ incredible powers. Lines like “Chuck Norris doesn’t do push-ups. He pushes the Earth down.”

Interestingly, we can perhaps trace the origins of this phenomena to this film. Where after beating up a group of thugs in a bar, Norris is told off by a friend for breaking his promise not to get into a fight.
Norris replies, “I didn’t fight. I gave a motivational seminar.”


It’s well known that the laws of physics do not apply in films. And Exploding Helicopter has always been fascinated by the objects which take on curiously bullet proof properties in movies.

Roger Moore’s discovery of bullet proof snow at the beginning of A View To A Kill has always been our favourite, but Delta Force 2 runs it a close second by featuring munitions resistant straw. Amazing.

Interesting fact

With a wooden leading man, a turgid script and the star’s stunt man brother directing, it’s not like this film didn’t have enough issues. But apparently Michael Winner was at one point set to make this film. Yee Gods.

Favourite line

We love the meaningless bollocks that’s regularly spouted in action films to give the dialogue a quasi-military feel. There’s a particularly fine example of the art here: “Eagle one, this is wildcard. Stranglehold is a go.”

Review by: Jafo

Friday 3 April 2015

Black Sunday

Black Sunday (1977) should be a disaster. This spy thriller has a plot so epically bonkers, it would make a Bond movie look like an espionage documentary.

Yet, in the hands of directorial master John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin), the fantastical storyline is transformed into the basis for a genuinely gripping, pulse-quickening actioner.

The plot

So what’s so barmy about the plot? Well the basic premise is standard fare: Arab terrorists plot to attack America. (Twas ever thus).

What is unconventional is their crackpot plan. This involves blowing up the Superbowl game using an airship they’ve turned into a giant floating bomb.

Only a top Israeli secret agent can stop the deadly attack. Can he burst the terrorists’ balloon? Or will it be a ‘good year’ (Goodyear, geddit?) for the villains?

Who the hell’s in this?

Robert Shaw (From Russia With Love) is the film’s hero. He’s plays Major Kabakov, a world-weary Mossad spy whose steely belief in his own superiority is matched only by his disdain for everyone around him.

In many ways, he’s a secret agent version of Quint, the salty seadog he so famously played in Jaws. All that’s missing is a scene where he shows off his scars while pretending – very unconvincingly – to be drunk.

He’s pitted against Bruce Dern, an unhinged Vietnam veteran recruited by the terrorists to fly the blimp. Dern, a long-serving specialist in crazed loon characters (see Silent Runnings, The Cowboys, et al), is here given free rein to unleash his inner crazy.

In one chilling scene, he cold-bloodedly engineers a man’s death just so he can test a nail-bomb. As the bloody, mutilated body slumps in front of him, Dern’s only interest is the symmetry of the holes on the wall behind the corpse. Yup, it’s fair to say the lad’s tuppence short of a shilling.

The good

Despite clocking in at the best part of two and a half hours, Black Sunday is never less than gripping.

The extended runtime gives Frankenheimer the scope to not only stage several exciting action set pieces (a bloody hotel shoot-out and motorboat chase are highlights) but properly develop the characters of his two protagonists.

While most espionage thrillers opt for either psychological depth (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold) or pyrotechnic thrills (The Spy Who Loved Me), Frankenheimer deftly fuses the two approaches.

This pays dividends for Frankenheimer during the credulity-stretching climax. As the blimp slowly, and very visibly, chugs towards its target (whatever it may be, this is certainly not a stealth operation), Robert Shaw is lowered from a pursuing helicopter in a desperate bid to stop the airship.

Predictably, things don’t go exactly to plan and our Bob is left clinging on to the side of blimp, looking for all the world like a midget trying to hump a very, very big woman. All the while, he frantically tries to attach a hook so the behemoth can be towed to safety by the chopper.

By rights this sequence should be every bit as a ridiculous as the ‘jump-the-shark’ moment in Die Hard 4.0 when Bruce Willis hitches a ride on a fighter jet. But with the viewer already fully invested in the characters and their motivations, the scene feels more like a natural conclusion rather than an absurdity bolted on to the end. (Which, in truth, it probably is.)

The bad

This is a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, where good must eventually triumph. That means the terrorists are required to make a simple mistake that ultimately leads to their downfall. And what an avoidable cock-up it is.

Despite the attack being weeks away, one of the terrorists can’t resist recording the gloating message they plan to send the media claiming responsibility for the atrocity. Let’s just hope this damning tape doesn’t accidentally fall into hands of the Americans, giving them just enough information to track down the terrorists. Oh, wait… D’oh.

The unwatchable

Not so much unwatchable, as inaudible. Robert Shaw’s attempt at a kosher Israeli accent is so bizarre, Exploding Helicopter was forced turn the subtitles on after 20 minutes. Oy vey!

Exploding helicopter action

Since the dramatic focus of Black Sunday is an exploding zeppelin, the film may seem an unpromising prospect for chopper fireball fans. Fear not! For during the film’s exciting denouement, there is also some exploding rotary action to enjoy.

As the airship languidly floats towards the Superbowl, a police helicopter is scrambled to stop it. Happily, one of the terrorists has brought along a machine-gun and energetically opens fire on the copper’s chopper.

Trailing smoke and flames, the wounded whirlybird loses altitude before it suddenly explodes. It goes up, ironically enough, like the Hindenburg.

Artistic merit

Points have to be deducted for cheating. Rather than actually blow up the helicopter, footage of a fireball is superimposed over it. Due to the limitations of special effects in the Seventies, this trick was regularly – and unconvincingly – employed by filmmakers of the era (Diamonds Are Forever, for example.)

Watching today, it’s easy to sit and smirk. But Exploding Helicopter choses to salute these trailblazers who found ways to give us the chopper fireball thrills we craved despite the technical challenges of their day.

Exploding helicopter innovation

This blog has seen helicopters battle many different modes of transport: motorcycles, cars, airplanes, tanks, even trains. But, we’ve never seen one engaged in an aerial dogfight with a blimp. It remains unique to this day.

Favourite line

Understanding what makes a success or failure can be hard.

In Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger immortalised the line: “Get to the chopper!” Sadly, Bruce Dern was unable to pull off the feat with his similar, but perhaps less catchy, “Get to the blimp!”

Maybe he should have tried it with a thick Austrian accent.


Black Sunday’s tagline is the perplexing ‘It could be tomorrow’. And indeed it might, assuming every day was Saturday.

Review by: Jafo