Thursday, July 01, 2010

Culture Shock 07.01.10: Forgotten movie sums up the gung-ho 1980s

It was the 1980s. Ronald Reagan was president. Sylvester Stallone was re-fighting — and winning — the Vietnam War. And high school students were fending off a Soviet invasion.

You didn't mess with America, and if you did, you were soon sorry. This was the era that spawned every Chuck Norris joke you've ever heard.

In the gung-ho decade of "Red Dawn" and "Invasion USA," a mullet and guns — lots of guns — were all you needed to take on the Forces of Evil. It was "morning in America," every day was the Fourth of July and Hollywood got busy settling the U.S. of A.'s old scores.
Sometimes the plots were, to be charitable, a little silly. But even for anyone who thought "Red Dawn" was a documentary from the future, there was one movie that made all the others seem sane. That movie was 1987's "Nightforce."

If you've never heard of "Nightforce," that's understandable. This straight-to-video action flick received most of its airplay on late-night cable TV. The VHS tape is long out of print, and it isn't a likely candidate for reissue on DVD. And that's a shame because while "Nightforce" is in no sense a good movie, it is bizarre artifact from a decade that now exists only as a target for jokes on VH1.

Here's the plot: Central American terrorists kidnap a U.S. senator's daughter, and for reasons that don't make any sense, especially because we're talking about a senator's daughter, the government is powerless to act. Meanwhile, the senator refuses to give in to the captors' demands because "we don't negotiate with terrorists."

It falls to the daughter's mullet-headed, polo-wearing college friends to come to the rescue. They load a jeep with automatic weapons and ammunition, then head south of the border on a rescue mission you just know is going to end with half of them dead. But one way or the other, they'll rescue the girl and shoot a bunch of foreigners, especially that one guy who looks like a burly Fidel Castro. He's a dead man.

There's also a subplot about said senator's daughter, Christy, getting married to some rich guy even though she's in love with the rich guy's younger brother. But as far as I can tell, the subplot is there mainly to justify the sex scene that occurs in the first 10 minutes. That's reason enough, come to think of it.

Amazingly, Christy's friends drive all the way to Central America without getting their throats slit.

They also have the good fortune to meet a friendly mercenary played by 1980s B-movie mainstay Richard Lynch, who gives them even more guns, plus some tactical support.

Most of "Nightforce's" (unintentional) entertainment value comes from its absurd script, but you can't discount the cast. Apart from Lynch, there's Linda Blair — smack in the middle of her post-"Exorcist" career's action movie phase — playing Christy's best friend and leading the rescue operation.

Then there's James Van Patten, son of "Eight is Enough" patriarch Dick Van Patten, as Steve, the younger brother/love interest. (Or is he the older brother? I honestly forgot.)

Somehow, Lynch spent a fair chuck of the 1980s dealing with Dick Van Patten's children. In "Nightforce," he tries to keep James from getting killed, while in 1985's "Cut and Run," he tries to kill Dick's TV son Willie Ames.

Lastly, there's Christy, played by Claudia Udy, best known for her title role in the Cinemax After Dark favorite "Joy," due on DVD later this month.

It almost goes without saying, but Udy spends most of the movie in various states of undress.

Basically, "Nightforce" is the sort of untrained-Americans-kick-butt-against-skilled-adversaries movie that could only have come out of the '80s, with just enough exploitation elements to keep late-night viewers awake.

For all of its schlock value, "Nightforce" says something about the prevailing attitude in America during the decade it was made. America was finally over its post-Vietnam funk and looking to kick butt.

How quaint those pre-Iraq, pre-Afghanistan days seem now.

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