Times Staff Writer

Very early on, when you start suspecting where "Iron Eagle" (citywide) is heading, you wonder whether it will dare to plunge into all-out ludicrousness.

It does, and in doing so achieves a kind of perfection of awfulness that only earnest effort can produce. As a result, "Iron Eagle" has an unintended hilarity that builds and builds. But don't take this as one of those so-bad-it's-good endorsements: The film is a total waste of time.

Jason Gedrick is the adoring 18-year-old son of a jet fighter pilot (Tim Thomerson) who's shot down and taken prisoner by a fictional Middle-Eastern country--read Libya--while on a routine reconnaissance mission.

When it looks as though Thomerson is going to be executed and nobody's going to do anything about it, Gedrick, who's always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and already knows how to fly, decides to take matters into his own hands. With the help of a crusty retired Air Force colonel (Louis Gossett Jr., in a parody of his Oscar-wining performance in "An Officer and a Gentleman"), Gedrick commandeers an F-16 fighter to rescue his father. Alas, it was only a matter of time until the "Rambo" fantasy trickled down to the high school level.

Each moment in "Iron Eagle," which was directed energetically by Sidney J. Furie (co-writer of the script with executive producer Kevin Elders), is less credible than the last, thanks even more to laughable dialogue than to its far-out premise.

This film would have us believe that all it really took to get Gossett to go along with this harebrained operation (which could, after all, trigger World War III) was that Thomerson showed him some respect as a black officer when others didn't. (Why should Thomerson get credit for doing only what's right in the first place?) Its burlesque of Thomerson's captors as villains straight out of Victorian melodrama and silent movies seems singularly irresponsible just now.

If "Iron Eagle" weren't so dangerously preposterous, its notion that military brats have incredibly easy access to classified information and materiel might have been lots more amusing. Except for some fairly dazzling aerobatics and aerial warfare, "Iron Eagle" (appropriately rated PG-13) has nothing going for it at all.

'IRON EAGLE' A Tri-Star presentation. Exec. producer Kevin Elders. Producers Ron Samuels, Joe Wizan. Director Sidney J. Furie. Screenplay Elders, Furie. Camera Adam Greenberg. Music Basil Poledouris. Production designer Robb Wilson King. Associate producer Lou Lenart. Film editor George Grenville. With Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick, David Suchet, Tim Thomerson, Larry B. Scott, Caroline Lagerfelt, Jerry Levine, Robbie Rist, Michael Bowen.

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

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