Above the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines is an elite military force charged with defending global freedom against terrorist threats from a secret headquarters. Equipped with the most advanced technology available, these colorful commandos hurl themselves headlong into the breach with a devil-may-care attitude. Any child of the 1980s should be able to guess that I’m talking about G.I. Joe, “America’s daring, highly trained special missions unit.” A much, much smaller segment of my generation, however, might eventually get around to guessing that I was talking about MegaForce – after they guessed G.I. Joe, the Bionic Six, the Centurions, M.A.S.K., Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommadoes and the Defenders of the Earth.
In just about every way, 1982’s MegaForce seems to contain all the same elements as G.I. Joe, but in live action and splashed across the big screen. Why, then, is G.I. Joe still fondly remembered by those of us with arrested development but MegaForce lives on only in a few scattered YouTube links? Why did the formula that worked so well in one instance fail so miserably in another? Why is there no special edition blu-ray of MegaForce from Shout Factory? The answer is that MegaForce manages the incredible feat of making the idea of an elite paramilitary strike force with sci-fi weapons as dull as bowling on TV.
MegaForce opens – as I think all post-Star Wars action/sci-fi movies were required by law – with a wall of text explaining that MegaForce is sponsored by the free nations of the world as a way to fight the Cold War without actually getting their hands dirty. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of MegaForce’s mission. From there we’re introduced to Henry Silva’s character Guerrera, who is leading some kind of revolutionary force from one fictional nation over the border into another fictional nation. Let’s call them WhoGivesADamnistan and the People’s Republic of What Difference Does It Make? Anyway, the freedom-loving people of the PRWDIM are getting pretty cheesed off about Guerrera’s constant incursions, but if they do anything about it, it would set off World War III. Who ya gonna call?
Two representatives of the good-guy nation’s military meet up with MegaForce, and the next 35 minutes or so are given over to a detailed introduction to MegaForce’s inner workings. One of MegaForce’s military liaisons is Major Zara, played by Persis Khambatta. She’s the daughter of El Presidente of the good-guy nation, but she’s still a major in their army and is said to have military experience. Keep that in mind, because it makes a lot of what happens next extra-obnoxious.
MegaForce knows that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, which is why they send some hick named Dallas played by Michael Beck of “The Warriors” and “Xanadu.” He shows off some fancy hologram technology that disguises a rock as a bikini babe frolicking on the beach, and then it’s time to meet MegaForce’s main man, Commander Ace Hunter, played by Barry “Dammit, Janet” Bostwick.
I have to break away here for a moment to talk about MegaForce’s uniforms. They consist mainly of a skin-tight, one-piece khaki bodysuit, accented by what look like parachute harnesses and patches denoting each member’s country of origin. Strangely, Dallas is wearing a Confederate flag on his uniform, so in the world of MegaForce either the Civil War never ended or Hazzard County is a sovereign republic. I know each one of us is a different shade in God’s beautiful rainbow, but the mostly-Caucasian MegaForce ends up looking like an army of naked Ken dolls in these uniforms.
Hunter clearly gets a thrill out of letting Zara gawk at the super-advanced technology at MegaForce’s disposal. In addition to the afore-mentioned hologram projectors, MegaForce also has advanced surveillance equipment that allows it to listen in to any conversation had by any military or government in the world, translate it, and store it for future reference. The scene where this technology is introduced takes about five full minutes, so one could expect that it will come into play later on in the plot. It doesn’t.
Nor does the advanced battlefield simulator Zara uses while training to accompany MegaForce on their mission against Guerrera, because Hunter eventually decides she can’t come along. It has something to do with the fact that she’s still not “mentally” a part of the team, and effectively makes her entire character worthless except as a just-add-water love interest for Hunter. They allegedly fall in love over the span of one skydiving training scene, and you can tell they’re falling in love because the movie lays some softcore saxophone music over the two of them tumbling through the air. By the time they land, she’s turned from no-nonsense military professional to gooey-eyed MegaForce cheerleader, complete with a manic, vacant grin.
So a potentially strong female character is pushed to the sideline, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because the one thread that runs through the entire movie from start to finish is that MegaForce is really, really bad at what it does. For an elite paramilitary outfit charged with protecting global security, there is way too much grab-assing and horsing around going on inside MegaForce. Dallas interrupts the holographic simulation of their plan with a cartoon pig, laughing like a damn hyena as it falls on its cartoon ass. The MegaForcers who accompany Hunter to the first meet-and-greet with Zara hang back and make quips like “Target – destroyed” as Hunter dishes out weak zingers in defense of MegaForce’s reputation. Hunter gives Guerrera a big back-slapping hug like they’re old frat buddies when Guerrera makes a surprise visit to MegaForce’s camp. What the hell kind of outfit is Commander Ace Hunter running here?
Some of that could be forgiven, I suppose, if MegaForce got the job done. But here’s the thing – they absolutely don’t. MegaForce was directed by Hal Needham, who approaches the film with all the knowledge of military strategy and geopolitical intricacies you would expect one of Burt Reynolds’ drinking buddies to bring. No one was expecting this to be “Battle of the Bulge,” but MegaForce’s plan is to lead Guerrera into a trap set by the good-guy nation. As far as military strategies go, it’s on the same level as Wile E. Coyote putting out a sign saying “Free Birdseed” under a giant anvil.
Now, given what we know at this point about MegaForce and its technological capabilities, would you guess that (A) MegaForce uses a sophisticated hologram to trick Guerrera’s army or (B) use its advanced surveillance system to intercept Guerrera’s troop locations and ambush them? Well, whatever you chose, that’s why you’re not in charge of MegaForce. Hunter’s plan actually is (C) – invade the bad-guy nation and start shooting at Guerrera with motorcycle-mounted rockets and dune-buggy-mounted laser guns.
Under cover of night, MegaForce parachutes into the bad-guy nation and starts lasering everything it sees, causing serious damage to some plywood buildings. Some tanks explode, some dune buggies flip over, and some motorcycles jump over things. What doesn’t happen is Guerrera following MegaForce into the trap. The plan doesn’t work, and now MegaForce is stranded behind enemy lines and the good-guy nation won’t let them cross back over. Hunter is pissed off, but he was hired to do this with the understanding that the good guys needed plausible deniability.
This is when Guerrera choppers into MegaForce camp and Hunter greets him like a buddy from the old neighborhood instead of the man he’s been hired to kill. They even banter a little about the cigarette lighter Guerrera took from Hunter back in the day. When the latest round of grab-ass is over with, Guerrera reminds Hunter that there’s only one way out – to have MegaForce’s rescue planes land in a dry lake bed – and that his army will be waiting to blow them to hell. And now the rest of the movie becomes about how MegaForce will turn tail and get the hell out of Dodge before their incompetence comes back to bite them. Go MegaForce!
Hunter finds a dried-up river that leads to the lake bed behind Guerrera’s armored division, so he figures that will give MegaForce the element of surprise. The rescue planes arrive, and now do you think MegaForce will (A) use holograms to trick Guerrera into attacking the wrong spot or (B) intercept the bad guys’ communications and use that information to their advantage? Wrong again, the answer is (C), MegaForce spews rainbow-colored smoke from their motorcycles and opens fire on the tanks with no pattern. More tanks explode, more dune buggies flip over, and in the confusion Hunter is thrown from his motorcycle just as the last MegaForcers are boarding the plane. Hunter climbs up on Guerrera’s tank, opens the hatch and steals his cigarette lighter back, telling his old buddy, “Sometimes the good guys do win.” Sometimes, yes. Not in this movie.
Now the plane is taking off and Hunter is still seemingly a good mile and a half away from it. His choices are either (A) surrender to his old buddy and be satisfied that his team made it out alive or (B) escape and try to make it back to the good-guy nation on foot. Of course, the answer is (C) – Hunter jumps on his motorcycle and converts it into a rocket-powered flying machine. This would have come in handy a lot earlier. Hunter catches up to the rescue plane for what feels like 15 minutes, enough time for him to execute a very unconvincing green-screen barrel roll. Finally, he’s back on board, everyone’s whooping and hollering and slapping each other’s butts like it’s Game 7 of the World Series, and MegaForce has finally succeeded in doing something.
Meanwhile, the top general of the good-guy nation is giving a press conference with Zara about how they have no knowledge of any military action being taken against Guerrera’s army. He’s claiming up and down that they have no idea what’s going on across the border, but then here comes MegaForce in their flying party bus and somehow it’s treated like a triumphant homecoming instead of a serious international incident. In a display of pettiness that I can only describe as “MacGruber-esque,” Hunter blows up the general’s prized luxury helicopter as a “screw you” for leaving MegaForce out to dry. Somehow, everyone finds this endearing, and Zara and Hunter exchange this weird thumb-kiss salute. Movie’s over.
Why is “MegaForce” terrible? It’s easy to point to the ugly costumes or the stupid plot or Barry Bostwick’s poofy hair, but the real reason this movie is terrible couldn’t be fixed by changing any of those things. It’s the pervading smugness that oozes out of every line of dialogue despite the fact that Hunter and MegaForce do absolutely nothing to earn it. Hunter huffs and puffs to Zara in one scene about the politicians who hold back men of action like himself, but it’s hard to sympathize when it’s clear that Hunter is all action and no thought. His plan turns out to be insultingly simple and easily bested, his men take nothing seriously, and when things go south he takes it out on the people he’s supposed to be helping. But the tone of the movie is that Hunter is completely justified in everything he does.
Even if the cast and crew of “MegaForce” had the self-awareness to acknowledge in any way that Hunter and his men were failures without redeeming qualities, that doesn’t change the fact that the movie they made would still be boring. The initial battle scene between MegaForce and Guerrera’s army has no sense of progression or drama. It’s a collage of unconnected explosions and vehicles crashing into each other that needs insert shots of some command center to tell the audience who’s winning. The training sequences in the first half amount to nothing because Zara is cut out of the second half. By the time MegaForce has its final showdown with Guerrera’s army, the stakes have been lowered to the point where it’s impossible to care what happens.
Based on the poster or VHS box, “MegaForce” promises everything that made 80s action movies fun to watch, but instead of a cheesy good time it delivers a stale slog that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you’re looking for something that actually delivers the type of dopey action-figure vibe of the “G.I. Joe” cartoon, I would point you in the direction of “Eliminators” from 1986 starring Denise Crosby. Like “MegaForce,” “Eliminators” is supremely dumb, but unlike “MegaForce” it turns out to be fun and watchable in spite of itself.