Times Staff Writer

“The Delta Force” (citywide) is a standard hijack-hostage adventure in which the intricate logistics involved in its making are far more impressive than the script. Despite its large scale, it plays like a formula TV movie.

An American plane departing Athens for Rome is hijacked by “New World Revolution” terrorists who are clearly Arabs, most likely radical Palestinians, but whose nationality, inexplicably, is never sharply defined. A group of American Jews (played by Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Joey Bishop, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg and others) have the bad luck to be aboard, as do three young U.S. Marines, who are immediately targeted for torture.

But never fear, Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin of the Delta Force, a special unit of the U.S. Army, are near, ready to mount an elaborate rescue operation of the hostages, who eventually are imprisoned in a Beirut dungeon.


(As if the mere presence of Norris in the film weren’t enough, we’re given a pre-credit demonstration of his heroism. As a member of the team that made the ill-fated rescue attempt of the U.S. hostages in Iran, he’s seen defying Marvin’s orders and instead returning to retrieve a buddy trapped under a jeep in a burning helicopter that could explode at any second.)

For all of veteran Israeli producer-director Menahem Golan’s assured command of so big a project, “The Delta Force” is drawn out and complicated. Roughly the first half of the film is given over to the hijacking, the rest is taken up with the rescue; more cross-cutting and tightening surely would have given the film more punch.

As it is, one’s attention starts wandering once Norris, Marvin and crew go into action, because there’s so little suspense. You know that Norris cannot fail--and that loss of life will be limited to all that’s needed to provide a final-reel heart tug. When Norris hits the dirt on his motorcycle with its 9-millimeter submachine guns on the handles and miniature rocket pods on the sides, those Arabs just might as well start folding their tents.

Understandably, Golan, who wrote the script with James Bruner, lays on U.S.-Israel solidarity, allowing the Arabs only the slightest of human dimensions. The film runs a draggy two-hours-plus, yet there’s little sense of tragedy in regard to Mideast conflicts and not a glimmer of insight into their underlying causes. The irony is that if “The Delta Force” were more successful as a purely action flick there might not be time for us to think about such serious matters.

There’s not enough characterization for anyone to suggest much dimension or individuality.

His skin and hair darkened, Robert Forster is the terrorists’ leader. Bo Svenson is the plane’s pilot; Hanna Schygulla a German-born flight attendant horrified at being forced to identify the Jews aboard; George Kennedy an American priest who voluntarily joins the hostages and Robert Vaughn the general in command of the Delta Force back in Washington. The biggest drawback to “The Delta Force” (rated R for blunt warfare violence) is that we’ve seen it all before and done better.