Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Attack Force Z (1982) - By Mark Oswald

Attack Force Z may sound like the title of a DTV Steven Seagal movie, but in fact it’s an early 80’s War film set in the WWII era about an elite team of Australian commandos who are tasked with the job of sneaking into Japanese-occupied China to rescue the two survivors of a downed American plane, but things are, like always, not as they appear.

The movie is most notable for early acting performances from Mel Gibson (with accent) and Sam Neil, who most probably know from Jurassic Park. I know old Mel has been in the news lately for angry phone conversations and apparent threats of physical violence against his ex-wife, but regardless of how I feel about Mr. Gibson as a person, I have always respected and enjoyed his work as an actor and director. From my first viewing of Lethal Weapon 3, which I purchased the VHS of with ticket winnings from a local video arcade on a whim, to his recent old-school revenge throwback, Edge of Darkness, I’ve always appreciated his talent as an actor, as well as his intensity as an action star. So it’s nice to watch a movie like this which brings you back to the simpler days of the Gibson saga, just after The Road Warrior had made Mel a bigger star in the States, out comes this low-budget Australian flick about a true-life, but largely unknown group of soldiers. It’s a small story, but one that does bear re-telling.

Even though Mel and Sam Neil are given plum roles in the movie, however, it is John Phillip Law (Barbarella, Tarzan, the Ape Man) who gets first billing and a little more screen time as an American member of the group who gets separated from them for the second act of the movie, and falls in love with a native Chinese girl, whose father is helping the rest of his team find the plane they’re after. I can’t go any further without acknowledging the surprising awesomeness of the father character, whose name I don’t think was ever mentioned. Not long after the team arrives on the mainland, they come upon a small farm and are questioning the inhabitants, one being the father. When a troop of Japanese soldier enters the home, however, the father, who harbors a deep hatred for the Japanese, starts karate chopping their asses while the rest of the guys shoot it out. Then when he goes along with them afterward, he straps on a belt of throwing knives. This guy was a pleasant surprise of stoic badassness that I appreciated as a real left-field addition to the team.

One of the film’s true charms that I found was the soundtrack. It was sparse and never over-bearing, but a real-throwback to the kinds of scores being used in films of the era the story takes place in. The whole thing is shot in a more modern (for 1982) style, but the soundtrack is real old-fashioned, and I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Another plus is that even though the budget is low, the actors never waiver in their performances. The entire cast is strong, and even though one of the villainous Japanese officers hunting the commandos plays it a little over the top, it’s always in an entertaining, rather than annoying fashion. His character also has a pension for threatening people’s children to get information out of them, so he really makes you hate him, like a good villain should.

The film is well-paced with solid action scenes and interesting characters. Even though we don’t learn much about them in general, it seems like the actors have their backgrounds fleshed out in their heads. Also, the movie is not without a message about the casualties of war. What happens to the people left behind in the wake of battle? Are certain sacrifices necessary in the protection of beliefs? Attack Force Z seems to focus on the ugliness and futility of it all, but not so heavy-handed as not to allow room for interpretation. When I put this movie on my Netflix queue, at best I was hoping for a fun, maybe a little cheesy film about some badass military types on an action-packed and dangerous mission, but Navy Seals this is not.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the sure-to-be epic, second coming of the Action genre, The Expendables, I’m going to try and take a look at other group-based Action flicks. I already have Isaac Florentine’s U.S. Seals 2 and Special Forces ready and waiting, so expect reviews on those soon; But until then, good day to you all.

Body Count – 74

Children threatened - 2

"A well-paced finely-acted war film that's not much short of super"

Who's Mom did they get that quote from?

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