One of Cannon’s biggest hits teamed the studio’s biggest star—Chuck Norris—at the height of his big-screen popularity with Oscar-winning action icon Lee Marvin (THE DIRTY DOZEN) in the last film of his career.
Producer Yoram Globus and producer/director Menahem Golan cast this right-wing comic book like an Irwin Allen disaster movie with an all-star roster of fading movies stars in supporting roles. As Sandra Bernhard once asked David Letterman, “Where else can you see Hanna Schygulla co-starring with Chuck Norris?”
Filmed in Golan’s home country of Israel, his and James Bruner’s screenplay bears similarities to the hijack of TWA Flight 847 a year earlier and the raid at Entebbe Airport in 1976. Lebanese terrorists led by Abdul (Robert Forster, JACKIE BROWN) take over an Athens-to-Rome passenger jet and order the pilot (PART II WALKING TALL’s Bo Svenson) to fly it to Beirut. Colonel Nick Alexander (Marvin, looking like a Ramona Fradon drawing), leader of the U.S. Army’s great fighting force, recruits disgruntled retired Major Scott McCoy (Norris) to assist in the Delta Force’s rescue operation. The terrorists are well organized and have spread out the hostages in three different locations, including a dungeon in downtown Beirut.
Rarely has a film been both so terrible and so good in its individual parts. Golan’s revisionist fantasy is hilariously shameless in its jingoism. Americans are awesome, and everybody else sucks. A Russian passenger rambles to priest George Kennedy (you can’t rip off AIRPORT without hiring George Kennedy) for two minutes about how much he loves living in the United States. The anti-Arab prejudice is appalling, and its anti-Washington sentiments echo those of Cannon’s Vietnam wish-fulfillment action films like MISSING IN ACTION and P.O.W. THE ESCAPE.
Yet THE DELTA FORCE is undeniably well-made. Golan gives the action an aura of scope and international intrigue. After setting up the conflicts and characters in the first hour, the director goes nuts in the second with a series of crisply photographed and edited action sequences specially designed to fit into Norris’ wheelhouse, complete with scripted quips. The explosions are big, and the stunts are exciting. Who better than Marvin to bark orders and take out an important bad guy with a well-aimed head shot? There’s no denying THE DELTA FORCE’s status as a crackerjack action vehicle.
The swarthy terrorists are portrayed as one-dimensional monsters, yet Forster brings an intensity to his role as the dedicated mastermind that forces you to take his cartoon villain seriously. Although the casting seems ripe for HOLLYWOOD SQUARES jokes, none of the veterans is sleepwalking. Martin Balsam (DEATH WISH 3), Shelley Winters (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE), Joey Bishop (OCEAN’S 11), Lainie Kazan (MY FAVORITE YEAR), Susan Strasberg (PSYCH-OUT), a young Kim Delaney (NYPD BLUE), and Schygulla (THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN) join Kennedy and Svenson as on-board hostages and turn in effective work. Robert Vaughn (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) does yeoman duty as a general sending the Delta Force into action. Alan Silvestri (BACK TO THE FUTURE) composed the cheesy synthesized score, which admittedly includes a catchy theme. Norris returned as McCoy in 1990 with DELTA FORCE 2: OPERATION STRANGLEHOLD.