Monday, April 4, 2011

Megaforce (Hal Needham, 1982)

A shameless attempt to sell toys to the masses masquerading as a major motion picture, Megaforce is here to remind you that the shelves are fully stocked and that war is fun again. The jungle ambushes, the torched villages, and the screaming babies from the not-so fun war that took place during the previous decade have been replaced with flying motorcycles and dune buggies affixed with laser cannons. Armed conflict has been turned into a mostly bloodless affair where thousands of missiles are launched and countless tank rounds are blasted, yet no-one ever gets hurt. Hell, they don't even mess up their hair (follicle disorder is not only frowned upon, it's against the law). It reminds me of when I used to watch The A-Team as a smallish child. Sitting way too close to the television set as a self-absorbed youngster, my breath no doubt reeking of Fruit Roll-Ups and Wine gums, I recall drinking in the choreographed mayhem flickering before me and thinking: Gee, killing people is rad. However, once my adolescent bloodlust had subsided, my woefully underdeveloped brain would periodically wonder why the so-called bad guys weren't getting torn to pieces by the intense barrage being hurled in their general direction. The reason for the lack of casualties is because you can't promote war if you show the real consequences of war. The desire to murder needs to be instilled in the mind you're attempting to sway. The fear of dying, on the other hand, needs to be nullified.

My theory that this dusty undertaking is basically an army recruitment film is just that, a theory. Nevertheless, I know for a fact that toys were a major priority to the producers of this film. Seeing many a print ad for the super-sleek battle vehicles seen throughout this flick in the pages of the comic books I used to flip through (G.I. Combat, Sgt. Rock, Unknown Soldier, etc.), the toys were so popular from a childhood "me wanty" point-of-view, that hardly anyone even cared about the movie. The idea of a motorcycle that fired rockets was enough to send us into a minor frenzy. Of course, that need soon turned to indifference as another craze quickly came along to take its place. (For me, and don't you dare tell anyone this, that craze turned out to involve acting out the cockpit scene that takes place near the end of the music video for "Church of the Poison Mind" by Culture Club on my couch.)

I was never in the military, nor did I get my hands on any of the toys (I don't think anyone in my peer group did, either), so, why, after all these years, am I watching Megaforce? A film I shunned with extreme prejudice during its initial release. Is it the film's innate camp appeal? Misguided nostalgia? It can't be my love of bearded men who sport headbands. I wonder. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say it's a bit of all those things. Though, to be honest, I think the skintight gold jumpsuits were the film's biggest selling point. I mean, call my gaze overly penetrating, if you must, but I have every single contour of Barry Bostwick's tight ass memorized. Not to brag, but if we were to be shrunken down to size of ants, and set adrift on Barry's hindquarters with shrunken burros as our only mode of transportation, I could get us off that taut, surprisingly hairy mound of skin with my eyes closed.

Bragging about things no-one should ever openly brag about notwithstanding, the other aspect of Megaforce I was able to extract a miniscule amount of pleasure from was its unique approach to sexual relations. If they can't show the bloody aftermath of war, what are the chances they'll show a defective cattle prod arousing a squid-like set of deformed genitals? (Zap my freaky junk, you moist harlot!) Okay, maybe I didn't expect to see anything that swell in terms of unorthodox copulation, but I did expect more than an innocent peck on the cheek. What I got instead was a sort blown kiss combined with a thumbs up. The leader of Megaforce, Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick), usually standing aboard a large cargo plane, would kiss his thumb and then extend it toward the person he wished to impart the kiss to, in this case, Major Zara (Persis Khambatta), and hold it in the traditional thumbs up position for about five to ten seconds.

The bizarre thumb kissing ritual is the only human element in Megaforce, as the rest of the film is explosions, tanks, dirt, cargo planes, and motorbikes. I almost forgot, Barry and Persis do share a tender moment while skydiving. You see, Persis's character wants to tag along with Megaforce on an important mission (Operation: Hook, Line, and Sinker), but lacks the skills to participate. She tries to rectify this by going through the Megaforce equivalent of basic training; hence, the skydiving sequence. Unfortunately, as Major Zara soon finds out, Megaforce is a sexist organization. Oh, sure, Ace, who had no intention of letting her come along, gives her some phony line about how her presence would upset the delicate balance of his unit. But look around the spacious confines of Megaforce HQ, the place is one gigantic sausage factory.

Anyway, other than the thumb kissing and some mild skydiving intimacy, the film is mostly about the fancy gizmos. Overall, the closest sensation I can come up with to describe the Megaforce experience is to that of being forced to watch a small boy playing with his war toys. While it seems like he's having fun, you, on the other hand, are slowly starting to loose your mind. The repetition, the noise, the nonsensical story, it begins to ware you out after awhile. Let me put this way: The universe Megaforce takes place in is the kind that equates intelligence with the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube in an expedient manner. Actually, I don't know why I felt the need to put that way, as it has nothing really to do with the point I was trying to make.

The story, just in case you were wondering, involves a crusty general (Edward Mulhare), frustrated by Duke Guerera (Henry Silva) a rebel who is causing havoc along the border (I didn't catch the names of the fake countries involved), asks Megaforce, a top secret international rapid response unit, for help. Lead by the headstrong Ace Hunter, and made up from men from around the world, including Suki (Evan C. Kim) from Japan and Dallas (Michael Beck) from the Confederate States of America (his character wears a Confederate flag patch on his Megaforce uniform), the phantom army of super elite fighting men are told to blow up a fuel dump, which they insist on doing by using missiles and laser cannons fired from motorcycles and dune buggies. But their mission is soon complicated by politics. As a result, the highly mobile, gold jumpsuit-encased attack squad find themselves trapped in the desert.

Probably the most likable bad guy in film history, Henry Silva steals Megaforce out from underneath his hapless co-stars with a nonchalant ease. Actually, I feel weird calling Henry's Duke Guerera the "bad guy," as you don't see him actually do anything all that bad. Yeah, the film opens with him destroying a power station with his trusty tanks, but he removed its employees before doing so. You know what? The more I think about it, the more it seems like Megaforce, and not Guerera, are the one's with the sinister agenda. I mean, who are Megaforce? And what gives them the right to decide who's being evil? Those are questions I will never ponder, as I don't really give a shit. But still, it makes you think.

An atypical villain if I ever saw one, Henry Silva gives a truly ebullient performance as Duke Guerera, a wily tank commander who comes off a bold, friendly, and, to be honest, a pretty cool guy compared to those Megaforce clowns. Let's be even more honest, if it weren't for Ace Hunter's saucy blue headband, you be hard pressed to distinguish Megaforce from a bunch of bed-wetting crypto-fascists bent on world domination. When Ace tells Duke: "The good guys always win, even in the '80s," which I'll admit, is pretty amazing as far as one-liners go, it should be a giant red flag to everyone who knows a thing or two about geopolitics. What I'm trying to say is, you should never trust anyone who casts themselves as the "good guys."

While the beautiful Persis Khambetta (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) lights up the screen with her radiant smile as Major Zara, her elegant presence is sorely missed once Operation: Hook, Line, and Sinker gets underway. In terms of narrative momentum, the scene where Ace Hunter explains to Major Zara the reasoning behind his decision to not bring her along is when the film starts to lose its footing (I did like how the scene was shot in silhouette against a purple background). When the focus shifts to faceless battle scenes where no-one is in any real jeopardy, you begin to miss her femininity. I truly believe that it was a mistake to leave her on the sidelines. Of course, I realize this film was being aimed a young boys who still think girls are icky, but most older boys will agree that the film could have used more shots like the one where Persis sits on a rock in an unladylike fashion in a red dress.

Since there's a flying car in The Apple, it only makes sense that Megaforce feature a flying motorcycle. Ridicule this movie all you want, but you have to admit, the flying motorcycle bit near the end was awe-inspiring. I don't know what else to say, Ace Hunter, who finds himself a real uncooperative pickle of a situation, pushes a couple of red buttons, and up, up, up, up he goes! You can almost hear the kids in the audience, the one's lucky enough, or unlucky enough, depending on your viewpoint, to see it when it came out, shouting in the theatre: "Look, daddy, that gay porn star is flying!" (Oh, and when I say, "gay" porn star, I don't mean it in a negative way. It's just that I can't picture a guy named Ace Hunter having heterosexual intercourse with adult women on a semi-regular basis.)

The only instances I can think of where I felt the kind of comradery the members of Megaforce must experience on a daily basis was when I was a Beaver (tiny "Friends of the Forest" who wear brown vests and promote sharing, motherfucker) and the time I was in line for a Nitzer Ebb concert back in, oh, let's say, 1992 (it couldn't have been later because that was the beginning of my rave period). The former is obvious, as we all wore the same uniform. The latter, however, is a little more complicated, in that, I wasn't aware I was wearing a uniform. It all started when some assholes drove by the line up outside the club and yelled a bunch of homophobic slurs mixed with some jabs about funerals and vampires. I thought to myself: Hmmm, clever use alliteration, my blustery, small-minded friend. But then it dawned on me, I was being included in his verbal assault. That's right, his hate-filled words were meant for the crowd in general. My misguided admiration soon turned to mild annoyance as their car sped away. But thanks to their insensitive remarks, I slowly began to realize that I was, in fact, wearing a uniform. It wasn't gold with a zipper down the front, it bore no insignia, it was simply a love for electronic body music, combat boots, and the colour black.

Replacing racial hatred with uniformed homogeneity, and depicting war as a fun-filled lark in the desert, Megaforce is probably the most dangerous, most subversive film to come out of the 1980s. I cringe to ponder what kind of damage it could have done to my psyche had I seen it as an impressionable young person. I don't usually like to end on such an alarmist note, but approach this film with extreme caution.

video uploaded by CarterJBurke


  1. Hahahaha! Awesome. I just got done writing this one up myself. I thought Ace Hunter was a little like a combo between Reagan and Jesus Christ, but I missed all the toy advertisements. You capture the vapidity well sir.

  2. TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE has to be the ultimate love letter/satire of this film. You can tell that the South Park boys were big, big fans of MEGAFORCE.

  3. I saw in the Theater with my brother and my dad when it came out, and then I think on video in the 80s some time. There are 5 films that I recall seeing with my dad; Star Wars, Jaws, Empire Strikes Back , Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Mega Force..... that's it, wait you can add trash talking ET with him to that list, but still, one of these things is not like the others. Ahhh to be a 8 year old again.... anyway I also don't recall any of my peers having any of the toys, or even seeing them at K Mart (cause that's where we got our toys when I was a kid). I am pretty sure there was an Atari 2600 game tie in with this film as well, I never played it, but I recall seeing the ads..

    As for Flying Motorcycles? I'll BGS 1980's bike over

    I have a copy of Megaforce somewhere that I keep threatening to make my brother watch, but we haven't gotten around to it.

  4. Fuck yeah, Yum! Not an easy one to write about, let alone sit all the way through. This is one of those movies I remember being fascinated by as a kid, but retained very little memory of as an adult. When I finally caught it again a few years back, I realized why...Is it me, or was Barry just radiant with excitement when he finally got that bike off the ground? I seem to remember him glowing or some shit. Or maybe it was something I ate.

  5. @The Goodkind: I'm sure Ace Hunter would be flattered to hear that he's been compared to Ronald Reagan and Jesus Christ.

    @J.D.: I was surprised that Megaforce did not employ a single montage during its spry running time. I mean, even Rocky had a montage.

    @Iren: I was just looking at a stack of old war comics, and came across an ad for Megaforce that asked you to send them a dollar to receive "your official Megaforce membership kit." "For ONLY $1.00 you get: The official Megaforce patch, a Megaforce membership card, a reflective bike decal." I don't know 'bout you, but that still sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

    @Jerry: Thanks for the "fuck yeah," Jerry. :)

    Not an easy one to write about, let alone sit all the way through." You can say that again. If I had no memory of the movie's comic book ad campaign, I have no idea what I would have blathered on about. I mean, once you get past the bikes, the dune buggies, and Barry's hair, there's not much else going on in this flick.

    You're not only one to notice that he seemed to be glowing. In fact, some have said that it looked like Ace came twice in his jumpsuit during his maiden flight.

  6. El Santo on the website 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting also recently put up a review of Megaforce. You might want to look at his take on it. Keep up the good work.

  7. Thanks.

    The countries of "Bullshitistan" and "Myassistan" are excellent substitutes for the fake nations in the made-up world of Megaforce.

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  9. No montage, but is there puppet sex? (J.D. beat me to the punch about South Park and this movie.)

    Myassistan? That's near Uzbekistan, right? Seriously, when I think of the -stan countries, I think of my college geography professor who made us memorize all the capitals of the newly independent -stan countries. I cursed him then, but it's come in handy for Jeopardy!

  10. No puppet sex and/or scat.

    I love the new stans.

    Kyrgyzstan - Bishkek
    Turkmenistan - Ashgabat
    Uzbekistan - Tashkent
    Tajikistan - Dushanbe
    Kazakhstan - Almaty

    FYI: Saransk is the capital of The Republic of Mordovia. You never know, it might come up some time. ;)