Sunday, May 6, 2012

Video Cheese: COUNTERFORCE (1987)

This piece was originally posted at as part of a series called Video Cheese. This version has been edited from that earlier version, and posted here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.
COUNTERFORCE (1987 - color)
   "Elite commando unit must protect middle eastern diplomat from forces that wish to kill him."
   Counterforce is sort of lame. Now, when I say that, I mean it in the real sense. It isn't good enough to really be, well, "Good," but it is decent enough that it isn't "Bad." In the end, it sits there like a middle child. There's nothing remarkable to say about it, but there's nothing particularly bad to say about it either. It has plenty of moments that are pretty good, and plenty of moments that are stupid or inept. It just lays there, a reasonably goofy, yet more or less enjoyable B action movie from the 80s.
   The cast is full of familiar faces. George Kennedy is the leader/liaison of a super-efficient commando unit known as Counterforce. (This rather comic booky title is never spoken in the film, but the men do wear uniforms with little "Counterforce" patches on them in one scene.) I've always been a fan of Kennedy, who has played both sides of the cinematic street, acting in great films and horrible ones in a way that could let us call him the American Michael Caine. He is probably best known as the plucky Patroni in the Airport cycle. Here, he more or less wanders in once and a while to give Counterforce their orders, although he manages to be a bigger presence than I thought he'd be. As you'd expect from a professional with as many movies under his belt as Kennedy has, George comes off well (considering he was probably just going through the motions on this one).
   Top Billed is George Rivero (aka Jorge Rivero). Consider this man's career. He first appeared on the screen in a Neutron (a masked wrestler of the Santo variety) movie back in 1965. The Mexican actor has since racked up 122 IMDB credits, his most famous role being that of "Frenchy" in the John Wayne classic Rio Lobo! Sadly, that high point didn't prevent him from eventually becoming the guy in Arizona Werewolf who has a different style and color of hair in every scene. Here, he's the leader of the Counterforce field team. While not spectacular or anything, he's okay here. The only problem is that whoever trained the actors to hold their guns didn't do a very good job. During the whole thing, these guys never look like a special ops team as much as they look like kids playing in the back yard with squirt guns. That group problem aside, George certainly looks the part with his muscular build and manly wavy hair.
   Best is familiar character actor Louis Jourdan as the diplomat Counterforce is assigned to protect. He lends his scenes such gravity that he elevates the whole film. One wonders how he felt, knowing how far Counterforce is from Gigi, although it's a step above playing Dr. Arcane in the Swamp Thing movies. Winning him a certain immortality in a high profile production, Jourdan played Kamal Khan in Octopussy, thus providing the Moore era 007 movies with one of their most commanding heavies. He plays Kasser, the democratic leader of a middle eastern republic. He has been targeted by a rebel leader/dictator played by Robert Forster (!) who escalates his attempted overthrow when the CIA fails to take the troublemaker out with a Samsonite bomb. He thinks Kasser is behind the plot and makes it known he will kill the elected leader. Counterforce is then sent in to protect Kasser, as he represents the best hope for democratic stability in the Middle East. 
   From there, we basically sit back and watch as the bad guys get close to Kasser and Counterforce kills them. During a speech, Kasser is shot and taken to the hospital. The bad guys try to get in there, Counterforce moves him out. Unable to get close to Kasser, the bad guys kidnap his wife and son, and Counterforce must go rescue them. Need I really spell it out beyond that? The problem is, the whole affair seems tepid. The action isn't bad stuff, its just not as engaging as it should be. Mostly, you just go through this one on autopilot. It really makes you notice how well Cannon knew their craft when it came to making action movies.
   The late Isaac Hayes plays the team's Big Black Guy (c) but the part is one dimensional enough that anybody could have played it. Sheer screen presence might have made the part more impressive if they had managed to get Fred "The Hammer" Williamson instead. Needless to say, this character pretty much confirms how blatantly the film steals from the recent hit show The A Team.
   Though modestly budgeted, they do get to include some impressive location photography in (I think) Spain, doubling as Africa. The opening sequence is the least impressive, as we watch Counterforce engage in a training mission like the one that opens License To Kill (but without the traitor in their midst, and actually a point in Counterforce's favor is the lack of a secret traitor). This is so bland and cheap it makes one nervous the following film will be a chore to endure. Because this is the 80's, the men are given those pistols with the big laser scope like we saw in The Terminator, but to show the red dots on someone and rather static red circle is superimposed over the footage! This gets more comical as we continue to see it.
  Also pretty farcical is the gunfight that results when Kasser is shot. A good chunk of the movie follows this pattern: Good guy starts to enter room where Bad guy is. Bad guy takes a shot, it comes close but misses. Good guy fires a couple shots back, these hit their mark. This pattern repeats itself endlessly in this scene, whether the good guys are Counterforce or Kasser's guards. Also, despite Counterforce providing security (and these guys are supposed to be the BEST), the bad guys always manage to get close enough to Kasser to almost get him. You'd think Kasser would at least rate a private floor in the hospital where Counterforce needed only to worry about the windows and elevators (but for some reason this idea escapes our heroes and Kasser is just in a normal hospital room).
   All in all, not bad, but not as good as one might hope.

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