Director – Hal Needham, Screenplay – Andre Morgan, Hal Needham, Albert S. Ruddy & James Whittaker, Story – Robert S. Kachler, Producer – Albert S. Ruddy, Photography – Michael Butler, Music – Jerrold Immel, Special Effects – Cliff Wenger Sr, Production Design – Joel Schiller, Vehicle Design – Dean Fredericks. Production Company – 20th Century Fox.
Barry Bostwick (Commander Ace Hunter), Henry Silva (General Guevera), Persis Khambatta (Zara), Michael Beck (Lieutenant Dallas), Edward Mulhare (General Byrne-White), George Furth (Professor Eggstrom)
The small Middle-Eastern country of Gamibia is under attack by neighbouring warlord General Guevera who always retreats to safety back across the border before the Gamibians can retaliate. Zara, the President’s daughter, and the military commander, travel to the US to enlist the aid of Megaforce, an international peace-keeping force formed by the free nations of the world, using hi-tech vehicles. Megaforce commander Ace Hunter agrees to take the mission, becoming attracted to Zara as they train. The Megaforce team parachute into Gamibia where they declare war on Guevera, an old friend of Hunter’s.
It is a shame that Megaforce is not more widely known. It is richly deservous as one of the genuine Golden Turkeys of the 1980s and it is a shame that its spectacular badness has not developed a greater reputation than it has so far.
Megaforce was made by director Hal Needham. Needham was a former stuntman and stunt coordinator, having reportedly broken 45 bones in his pursuit of a payslip. Needham graduated to director with films such as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Cannonball Run (1981), the first two sequels to each of these and Hooper (1978), before vanishing not long after making this and the equally atrocious Stoker Ace (1983) and the BMX bicycle film Rad (1986). Most of these were made starring Hal Needham’s former roommate Burt Reynolds and all centre around, as might be expected of someone of Needham’s background, the staging of stunts. While Smokey and the Bandit was amiable in a moronic kind of way, The Cannonball Run moronic but audience-pleasing, and Hooper even halfway decent, Hal Needham bottomed up in a big way with Megaforce, which never even managed to regain back half of its $14 million budget at the box-office. It was one of the rare miscalculations for producer Albert S. Ruddy who only a few years earlier had had the massive success of The Godfather (1972).
Megaforce is like a Gerry Anderson production – Thunderbirds (1965-6) with Reaganite politics, if you like, or maybe a non-comedy version of Team America: World Police (2004). It delights in models, technical double-talk and particularly pyrotechnics, more of them than a year of Guy Fawkes nights. Like a Gerry Anderson show, the film is focused more on big hi-tech vehicles, disasters and the technological minutiae of rescue, than it is on people. There are endless sequences of motorcycles and dune buggies running about the desert firing laser beams, moving in unison, doing slow-motion stunt jumps over other vehicles … and yet more explosions – it is not even a minute into the film before things start blowing up.
Some of the action sequences are so inanely juvenile – hordes of motor-bikes stunt-jumping over Persis Khambatta or shooting down balloons – or unintentionally ridiculous – a climactic moment of tension where Barry Bostwick races to catch a departing aircraft carrier on his rocket-launched motorbike that loses all credibility through some incredibly shoddy blue screen work – that the only way that Megaforce can be taken as is a laugh-riot.
Barry Bostwick seems badly miscast. It was impossible viewing Megaforce at the time to shake associations of Barry Bostwick as Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and buy him as an action hero. (Indeed, the combination of Bostwick’s Rocky Horror associations and the skintight spandex outfits and scarves the Megaforce team wear has given more than one reviewer to speculate about possible gay subtexts to the film). Barry Bostwick tells how he was cast in the film after the producer’s wife saw as The Pirate King him in The Pirates of Penzance (1880) and insisted he be outfitted the same way.
Placed up against Bostwick is former Miss India Persis Khambatta who was briefly claimed as the next greatest sensation when she appeared as the bald navigator in Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979). Her performance here gives indication that the emotionless android she played in Star Trek may not have been entirely acting. Subsequently – and one is sure entirely due to career choices like Megaforce – Khambatta’s career vanished, she quit Hollywood only a few years later unemployed and died in 1998. The thumb kissing romance between she and Barry Bostwick is nauseating.
Edward Mulhare is present as British stuffed shirt comic relief – a couple of year’s later Mulhare would go onto play in an equally inane boy’s toy super-vehicle fantasy, the tv series Knight Rider (1982-6). Michael Beck provides some agonising attempts at comedy relief with an excruciatingly over-the-top Texan accent. The only one who seems to be having any fun in the picture is B movie veteran Henry Silva who camps it up as broadly as possible.
In promotional interviews, Hal Needham seemed under the sincere conviction that he was bringing about a return of the long-absent hero to the silver screen. [One wonders if Needham somehow managed to miss hits of the last few years like Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)]. However, what he produced was a fantasy of US politics. This was only a couple of years after the Iranian Hostage Crisis and it is easy to read that into the film – Megaforce is really a desire for kickass cowboy response to world politics, all relayed on about the level of Action Man/G.I. Joe toys.
As with Knight Rider, the politics are never discussed above the level of the unquestioning boy scout heroism that the characters embody. It is all G-rated action, no bad words, nobody gets hurt in all the mass explosions, not even Barry Bostwick’s blow-dried hair manages to get mussed up in the midst of the action. But nobody brought it. There is a line in the film from Henry Silva to Barry Bostwick: “Back in the seventies you could be an idealist, now it’s just too damned expensive.” It is one that the film’s failure to even recoup its own budget at the box-office rendered prophetically ironic.