In the frantic next-big-thing post-haste grab-bag of follow-the-leader early ’80s pop cinema, the successes of Star Wars and, to a lesser extent, more barbaric works like Conan the Barbarian, took the cinematic landscape for a ride and everyone was struggling mightily to stay on board. The general thrust of the plan was “make it like the 1950s would have, but add in just a bit more violence for the kiddies”, and with this, we can single out a few filmic years caught searching for cover under the perpetual hail of hyper-masculinized, macho bro-forces that mistook the likes Rambo: First Blood for a Reaganistic hagiography of big dudes with bigger guns. Littered deep under the fallout, after you move away the rubble for a few hours, one of the most culpably misguided, and among the earliest of these films, emerges: Megaforce, perhaps the most perfectly captured distillation of the year 1982 anyone was ever capable of dreaming up.
Let us rundown the checklist. A multinational strike-team of operatives who still somehow all manage to be from the US in spirit. A vaguely desert-like foreign nation presumably found in South America, California. Michael Beck, having a B-movie pop culture moment in the early ’80s and never again, sporting the most asinine Good-Old-Boy accent and accompanying demeanor and wearing a Confederate flag on the side of his shirt just to let us know this an early Reagan movie and that the South, in bad movies like Megaforce, shall never cease to rise again. A trio of wheelie-sniffing motorcycle riders who shoot rockets at exploding balls of rainbow-colored goo. It all seems to be in order.
And Barry Bostwick, playing a character named Ace Hunter (who leads the Megaforce) taking the Alpha-Alpha-Male position (and taking that American flag patch away from Beck so that he can wear that Confederate patch in all good taste). Those who know him are aware that Barry Bostwick is an unexplainable fact of the world who rises in whenever a world needs saving or an emotion needs ruining. His lyrca-golden hair matches his ever blossoming suit and loathsome sense of self-identity, all of which matches his vigorously skin-tight pants with gusto.
Bostwick, though, is but one mechanical gear in a film absolutely filled-to-bursting with them. For instance, there is the quintessentially “1980s as a fever dream cosmic child’s fantasy” set design which brandishes anemically alien purples and feral reds like a child with a crayon. The ludicrous and pristine techno-babble that establishes this crew as the greatest and most advanced freedom force since the Cheat Commandos is also a notable attempt at “cool”. A sky diving scene set to a lush power ballad sans lyrics, presumably because it is the 1980s, helps mightily. An animated pig, presumably because someone had a little too much whiskey on set, helps much more. And, if I may presume a little, the film boasts some of the worst flying-in-the-air-on-a-motorcyle shots in the entire history of film land, daring to be noticed amidst the rainbow shenanigans they are depicting. Which is assuming, of course, that you have seen at least one other film where a character flies toward the screen on a motorcycle that shoots rainbows.
A word on rainbows. There are a surprising, even dumbfounding, amount of rainbows in Megaforce (which I do wish was called The Megaforce, but we cannot have everything), and their place remains a daring, bold question mark on the face of early ’80s cinema (itself, as a cinematic time period, a daring, bold question mark in the first place). Sometimes, the rainbows are stripped for parts, as in brashly idiotic dialogue between Hunter and would-be female member of the force, Major Zara (Persis Khambatta), that is both hugely gendered and even more marooned. That is, it is literally maroon (or, at least, magenta), filtered through a visual showpiece where the two supposed people are silhouetted in black in front of an abstract red-purple background that is, if I may be so bold again, the single most insipid decision in a film that has suddenly decided it qualifies as some sort of art-house pic.
More often, however, the rainbows are in tact, sprinkling out from balls, being printed on to parachutes, and being shot out from motorcycles. Why they adore this film and stick to the material like butter, I do not know, but even a rubik’s cube gets in on the fun, bathed in that same cautiously deranged red and purple lighting that has nothing thematic to do with the entire film, but someone shows up time and time again. There is an unusually lucid branch of homoeroticism rampaging through the film, largely centered around Bostwick, that never goes away and always seems primed to return in greater force as the film goes on. It is almost textual, in fact, and although the text of the film is nothing more than a collage of indiscernible idiocy pushing up against itself, it is deeply difficult to miss the way Bostwick looks at just about anyone in the film, female or male, with a leering, predatory gaze. It is more difficult tp not feel like the only thought on his mind, indeed the only thought he is humanly capable of, is having sex with everyone and everything in his path. So pan-sexual, I suppose, but anyone who adores pointing out the homoerotic fixation latent in action cinema could seldom find a test case more superior than Megaforce.
Directed by former stuntman Hal Needham, it is no surprise that the film has a fetish for stunt-work, but the off-hand, ambivalent way it treats the physicality of the stunts is a great shame; none of them bear any impact, and all generally float around in the air naively and necrotically. Which is a shame; the lack of vigor given to the action is the only real dearth in a film bursting with genuine delirium and floppy filmmaking of the flightiest variety. It is a most fun bad movie, if nothing else.
Oh, and the opening credits are accidentally astounding: a ruthlessly cut and fascinatingly, mystically grotesque and brash series of black-and-white burning images of people on the run in shadows that seer like German Expressionism. Everything from there is down hill. File next to the Will Smith vehicle Wild Wild West for terrible films with great opening credit sequences.
So how good is it really?: 0.5/5 (very nearly close to the worst film I’ve ever seen)
But how “good” is it?: 4.5/5 (the review speaks for itself)