My friends and colleagues have always told me I have an incredibly high threshold for bad movie pain. Material they can’t bear to watch is nothing but a light triscuit to me; that is until the likes of Iron Eagle drops in. I had to put myself into mental lockdown mode for this one and while I came through unscathed, it was tough to put Iron Eagle in the “even though it sucks you still have to watch it column.” Very few movies reach that point—but I suppose it is a continuum because the farther you push you eventually come around. But Iron Eagle almost falls in that dead zone before the continuum begins to curve back to the “still sucks but watch it anyway” category. What I really really don’t understand is the fact that Louis Gosset Jr. (winner of an Academy Award for his role as Sargent Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman) continued to play “Chappy Sinclair” in three additional Iron Eagle films. The third one based on the premise that four WWII planes could be retrofitted with laser-guided missiles. Yes, I know, movies are supposed to be a time for suspended belief but for goodness’ sake that shit can kill you.
Putting that to one side let’s get back to this abortion.
Doug Masters (Jason Gedrick), son of veteran U.S. Air Force pilot Col. Ted Masters (Tim Thomson), is a music lover and a civilian pilot, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. But because he is a loser he receives a notice of rejection from the Air Force Academy. But the drama continues with his father being shot down and captured by an unnamed Arab nation (Libya) while patrolling over the Mediterranean Sea. A kangaroo court finds Col. Masters guilty of trespassing over their territory and sentences him to hang in three days.
Doug decides to take matters into his own hands and come up with his own rescue mission (at 16). He requests the help of “Chappy,” a Vietnam veteran pilot currently on reserve command, who has known Col. Masters for only a couple of years. At first Chappy has his doubts, but Doug convinces him that with his friends, he has full access to the airbase’s intelligence and resources and he can give him an F-16 fighter for the mission. What could be better than that you ask? He learns that Chappy had already begun planning the rescue operation himself after he learned the outcome of Col. Masters’ trial! I had no idea that court cases from unnamed countries were published in the U.S. Doug and his crew of young fellow service brats plan a mission and manage to procure two heavily-armed F-16 planes, with Doug flying the second unit.
At this point we start to get some flashbacks (or sideways I am not sure). Doug starts reminiscing about cutting school to fly training missions with his father in his F-16, but needing to have his Sony cassette Walkman playing before he can do any real piloting. Performing Air Force Thunderbird pilot-like acrobatics while jamming, he is clearly the next Greg “Pappy” Boynton.
Doug and Chappy fly these planes to the Mediterranean Sea (including inflight refueling) and cross into the enemy nation’s airspace. In the ensuing battle, three MiG-23 fighters are downed by our dynamic duo and destroy an airfield, but Chappy’s plane is damaged by an anti-aircraft gun. Doug climbs to a high altitude and plays a tape Chappy made him the night before, but then his engine fails and Doug listens as Chappy’s fighter goes down crashing into the sea at Mach 1.
Chappy’s recorded voice tells Doug how to finish the mission anticipating every obstacle that he could possibly face. Making the enemy believe he is leading a squadron (they must have shitty radar), Doug threatens the enemy nation into releasing his father from prison and moving him to the base’s northernmost runway for pickup. But before Doug lands his plane, Col. Masters is shot by an Arab sniper, causing Doug to destroy the airbase and engulf the runway with precisely placed napalm to keep the army at bay while he lands and picks up his wounded father.
Just as they take off, Doug and his father encounter another group of MiGs led by Col. Akir Nakesh (David Suchet) — himself an ace pilot. The lone F-16 and Nakesh’s MiG engage in a long dogfight until a missile from Doug finishes off Nakesh. Low on fuel and ammunition, the F-16 is being pursued by the other enemy MiGs when another squadron of U.S. Air Force F-16s appear, scaring off the MiGs before escorting Doug and his father to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
While Col. Masters is being treated for his wounds, Doug and Chappy are reunited. Chappy, of course, had ejected from his plane and was picked up by a fishing trawler. The two are summoned by an Air Force judiciary panel for their “reckless actions,” not for something like treason. Seeing that any form of punishment for the duo would expose an embarrassing lapse in Air Force security, the panel forgoes prosecution as long as Doug and Chappy never speak of their operation to anyone. In addition, Chappy convinces the panel to grant Doug admission to the Air Force Academy. All is well after they return on a plane assigned by the President to the States.
How bad can it be you ask? For god’s sake, Twisted Sister and Dio actually appear on the soundtrack and never mind that the mission is initially planned in a juke joint restaurant. Or that its posturing and puffed up escapades make Top Gun look like Catch-22. Or that the only women we see are either crying, making mistakes, or not talking at all. This is a world where young boys put small, faded pictures of their girlfriends in a lonely corner while their rooms are overwhelmed by full color glossies of jets, rockets, and studs-in-arms. If the aim of Iron Eagle was to make military combat seem like a video game set to rock music, I can only say: mission accomplished. All of this outrage, however, ignores the central fact that a teenage boy manages to fly into hostile territory and save his father from some member of the Axis of Evil, all without getting so much as a scratch. Right.
Again, only because of many years of dedicated training I was able to escape unscathed. But, as they tell you on T.V., don’t try this at home.