Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Rescue Force (1989)

The place: a PLO fuel and ammo depot near the Syrian border.  The time: Saturday, 3:27 AM.  Two faceless soldiers cut through a chain link fence, plant-what feels like-about a hundred bombs, and cause a bit of mayhem.  Lieutenant Colonel Steel (the outstandingly named Bo Gritz) gets recalled mid-flight to deal with the (unseen) aftermath of this sabotage, which includes the kidnapping of a “special attaché” and the bombing of an embassy in Tel Aviv.  Enter Agent “Striker,” a very Lino-Ventura-esque agent who teams up with bombshells Kiki (Keiri Smith) and Angel (Cynthia Thompson) to take down some more bad guys.  And then an ambassador and his daughter get kidnapped.  Send in Rescue Force!

Charles Nizet’s Rescue Force (aka Rescue Team) is a film that deals, at great, great length, with the bureaucracy of action.  Every character in the film spends a minimum of half their screen time talking on the phone with one another and/or chatting with their superiors/handlers.  They talk about what happened.  They talk about what’s going to happen.  They talk about what they want to happen.  They talk about their vacations (Angel, in particular, excels at this).  As with Ian Mackintosh’s The Sandbaggers and things like it, there is a deconstruction of the typically gung ho, shoot-first-ask-questions-later type of action/secret agent film going on here.  Something happens (granted, by all indications it’s our side who instigated this whole affair, even though I was never totally sure of this), and the “good guys” have to react, but said reaction is in steps.  There’s a protocol that must be followed.  These aren’t characters that can just leap into action and take out the bad guys without gathering information and formulating a plan first.  It’s quite a realistic approach to stories of this ilk.  The primary problem with it is that this tack can backfire if the constant barrage of information is either unnecessary for the audience to know and/or is completely devoid of any sort of progression of the ostensible plot.  And that’s much of what we get in Rescue Force.  

Clearly, this is the result of a budget that (judging by what’s onscreen) I’m going to estimate at probably about ten bucks (maybe thirty, if you include the food Nizet bought for the cast and crew).  I’ll give credit where it’s due; it takes a set of balls to attempt a story like this one with almost no money.  Further, what they do get onscreen works to a very limited degree.  The endless labyrinth of phonecall scenes is necessary to cover over action that couldn’t be (or maybe just wasn’t) shot.  So, we don’t get to see the embassy being assailed or the agent being abducted or the ambassador and his daughter being kidnapped.  Instead, we get a character named FMD (Michael St. Charles) going back and forth with his (unseen) assistant/secretary trying multiple times to get a hold of Striker (I’m not kidding).  We get a character talking about how he infiltrated the good guys’ group and got paid twenty-five-thousand dollars to boot, and these points are neither set up previously nor paid off later (I’m not kidding).  We get a character threatening that he’s going to “order you up a hot fudge enema” for one of his subordinates (easily one of the two most interesting/funny bits of dialogue in the movie; the other involves an incongruously Russian character stating that, “I don’t pay for anything. I don’t carry money, or VISA, or American Express,” after being told they’ll pay for the evil they’re doing; I’m not kidding).  Here’s the thing: because the filmmakers either didn’t know what the characters would be saying or did know but also knew that they were going to be post-dubbing the dialogue afterward, almost all of the characters chatting on their phones, CBs, walkie talkies, et cetera, do so with their hands over their mouths.  I tend to lean toward the former hypothesis, due to the fact that characters throughout the film who don’t have a single line of dialogue are shot talking into some device while covering their mouths.  Even background characters do this. 

As stated, the action in Rescue Force, is passable.  In fact, the more I think of it, the multitudinous phonecall scenes would have been passable too (but just barely), except for one major issue: the editing (or lack thereof).  To say that the editing in this film is choppy is like saying the universe is big.  For example, the action scenes consist of about four types of shot: medium long shots of Palestinians firing mortars at the good guys, extreme long shots of the good guys in their vehicles driving casually past the explosions all around them (said explosions consist solely of dirt, which may be more realistic for all I know, but it is less visually dynamic, unless said dirt plumes are swiftly followed by Graboids bursting out of the earth; they don’t), regular long shots of the good guys driving casually past the explosions all around them, and medium long shots of good guys firing rifles at the Palestinians.  There’s the possibility that a good editor may be able to make these limited options work, but the editing here simply puts them together in an order (correct or not, cogent or not) and bides its time until it’s time for the action to be done.  Otherwise, the film simply cuts between shots, barely linking one to another (and sometimes not linking them at all).  We’ll get things like a car pulling up somewhere and immediately jump to characters (who have not been introduced singly in this setting) already talking.  I think you get the idea.  

As I’ve said many times in the past, I admire anyone who can get a film actually completed, let alone distributed, so kudos to Nizet and company in that regard.  The filmmakers were clearly forthright in their approach, because everyone in this movie plays it totally straight, in so much as they can play it at all.  Hell, they even got Richard Harrison to appear in this for a hot minute, so there was some attempt at legitimacy going on.  But the technical deficiencies, the illogical (to the point that it’s just confusing rather than droll) script, and the threadbare budget severely hamper the proceedings.  Consequently, the runtime is a slog rather than a journey (despite getting to leer a bit at the beauteous Thompson’s assets).  I’m sure junk cinema fans can and will find things to love in Rescue Force.  I could even point out what those things are in more detail than I already have, but it’s getting late, and I have a few phonecalls I need to make.

MVT:  The meager action in the film is okay (and there’s a hint that there was supposed to be an all-female commando unit featured [they do kind of appear, but there’s almost no significance or development to them]; where the hell was that movie?!).  Damning with faint praise, to be sure, but what can I say?  That’s the truth.

Make or Break:  By the time the tenth (or it sure as shit felt like the tenth) phone conversation scene happens within less than ten minutes of screentime, I knew the film was in trouble.

Score: 3/10    

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