by Paul Gibbs
Suddenly everything that was released in the 1980s or late 1970s is a “Classic” because we grew up on it. Well, a lot of it isn’t. Sure, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and The Empire Strikes Back still beat just about any blockbuster from the last 15 years, but a lot of the stuff we loved as kids turns out to be twelve different kids of cheesy when we rewatch it today with any kind of critical thinking involved. In this series, I’ll be going back and looking at films I loved as a kid, and seeing how they hold up when I watch them as a 43-year old man. I’ll be starting with a movie that screams 1982 in all of the most terrifying and hilarious ways, director Hal Needham’s Megaforce.
Megaforce is a movie that I loved as a seven-year old. The story of an elite secret fighting force made up of the best soldiers in the western world and their sequined spandex jumpsuits, it’s as if Aaron Spelling made a G.I. Joe movie. Going into this one, I knew perfectly well that it wasn’t going be the spectacular blast of awesomeness my childhood self thought it to be (I modeled my Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car after the Megaforce armored dune buggies, winning an award for the “Most Original” design, as none of the judges had seen the movie and quite reasonably thought thought the white race car with orange lightning bolts had to come from the mind of an eight year old.). I knew this one was going to be best enjoyed as camp, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The fictional nations of Sardun and Gamibia are enemies. Gamibia wants to invade Sardun. As the U.N. is apparently resolving a conflict between Val Verde and Corto Maltese, Sardun sends Major Zara (Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘s Persis Khambatta, but with hair) and General Byrne-White (Edward Mulhere, proving that yes, he could embarrass himself further) to contact Megaforce, a team of superheroes that play like somebody pulled Jack Tripper and his friend Larry out of the Regal Beagle and gave them motorcycles that fire missiles from their handlebars. Megaforce is lead by Ace Hunter, played by Barry Bostwick in a role that was clearly intended to turn him into a superstar sex sumbol, but which actually was probably what his later Spin City co-stars used to tease him about.
Since director Needham made his name helming Burt Reynolds vehicles, and Hunter is clearly aiming to be the same kind of smirky hairy macho smoldering volcano of virile manhood, it’s hard to imagine why Reynolds didn’t play the role. I mean, this is nowhere near good enough a script for him to have turned it down. Maybe he just needed a little bit of a breather before he and Needham re-teamed for the phenomenon that was Stroker Ace. Bostwick gives it his best shot, but there are times when I thought I could see in his eyes at least a glimmer of recognition that this is the most ridiculous thing he’s ever done. Imagine my surprise when I read the Wikipedia entry on the film and found him saying things like “You know what’s good about this film? It’s plausible. We need an international force like this to keep the peace. I wouldn’t mind betting that one day there’s a real Megaforce operating somewhere in the world.”
Anyway, it turns out that the Gamibian army is lead by Duke Gurera (Henry Silva), Ace’s former best friend from the Macho Man Academy, now a brilliant but vicious warlord (FUN FACT: Rogue One’s anti-heroic military leader Saw Gerrera was named as a nod to Duke, according to some very reliable crap I just made up). Of course Hunter and his buddies eventually triumph over the Gamibians, bring peace and justice to whatever region of the world this is supposed to be.
No part of this film has aged well. Not even the “hilarious” sequence where the obligatory redneck member of the team demonstrates that their advanced hologram technology can be used to make a drunken cartoon pig pass out.
The romance between Ace and Zara (you knew there was one) feels as tacked on as a romantic subplot can be, with Bostwick and Khambatta displaying the raw romantic and sexual chemistry of Don Knotts and Tim Conway.
And the climactic moment where Ace makes his motorcycle (which he has lovingly named after himself) fly to catch up with the rest of the team shows us that you never settle for being conceptually stupid when you can employ blue screen effects that wouldn’t pass muster in a used car commercial.
Megaforce is a film that children of the ’80s should leave alone today, unless they’re able to take their nostalgia with a good dose of unintentional humor. It would be nearly impossible to deliberately create such a pitch perfect parody of early 1980s pop culture silliness.