Pros: Some nice shot-in-Israel aerial photography.
Cons: Implausible, heavy on the jingoism and just plain awful.
During the Reagan-era 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were still Cold War rivals, there was a wave of flag-waving fantasies in which America’s armed forces clashed with – and triumphed over – various military or terrorist adversaries.
Though the Soviets or their Communist comrades sometimes wore the villains’ proverbial black hats (Red Dawn, Rambo: First Blood Part II), Hollywood often cast Arab rogue states or terrorist groups as the antagonists. This reflected, of course, the growing tensions between the Reagan Administration and Muammar Khaddafy’s Libya, Iran, and various Palestinian terror groups.
Canadian writer-director Sidney J. Furie (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) and co-writer Kevin Elders jumped on the jingoistic bandwagon with 1986’s Iron Eagle, a ridiculously unrealistic tale of a civilian teenager who leads a rescue mission when his Air Force pilot dad is shot down and held captive by a rogue Arab state.
Jason Gedrick (Backdraft) plays Doug Masters, a high school senior who is also a skilled civilian pilot. He wants to follow the footsteps of his father, Col. Ted Masters (Tim Thomerson) and become a fighter pilot. As good as he is in a Cessna, however, Doug isn’t intellectually prepared for acceptance in the Air Force Academy. Crushed by this rejection, Doug mopes until Col. Masters is downed over the Mediterranean and held captive by one of those nameless Arab states that exist only in a screenwriter’s imagination.
When the nameless country’s leadership announces that their prisoner will be executed as an example of what happens to “imperialist Yankees” in the Middle East, the U.S. government declines to use armed force in retaliation and opts to negotiate through diplomatic channels. Knowing that his dad will surely die if no one intervenes, Doug recruits Air Force Reserve Col. “Chappy” Sinclair (Louis Gossett, Jr.) to plan and carry out a daring – and hopelessly implausible – rescue mission.
My Take: Originally scheduled for a Summer of ’86 release, Columbia-TriStar’s Iron Eagle was rushed to theaters in January of that year to avoid competing with Paramount’s superior but equally fanciful Top Gun. I saw it during its run on the big screen and even mentioned it in my college English composition journal – “a typical ‘rah-rah’ bit of Reagan era Hollywood silliness,” I wrote back then.
Nearly 30 years later, my initial opinion of Furie’s film remains unchanged. Even though some of the aerial photography is good, Iron Eagle is one of the most implausible military-themed “wet dreams” ever made. Furie and Elders want us to believe that a high school kid and a motley crew of accomplices can, among many things, steal not one but two F-16 fighter-bombers, defeat a small country’s air force and blow half of the enemy nation into next week.
For viewers who have a passion for cheesy ‘80s action flicks, Iron Eagle is worth at least a cheap rental. For everyone else, Furie’s flick is, at best, watchable if it shows up on a basic cable channel.