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Megaforce

Pictured, clipped from the online archives at JG-TC.com, this Skyway Drive In ad for "MegaForce" from the July 9, 1982, Journal Gazette. Not pictured: The movie's weird tagline "Deeds Not Words," whatever that means.

For those of you who weren’t at the Skyway Drive-in on July 9, 1982, or haunting video stores on those boring Friday nights of 1997 like I was, “MegaForce” was an action-sci-fi film, a joint U.S./Japan production, clearly meant to be a big summer event, despite the fact that it starred no one you could possibly call a big draw.

Unless, of course, you felt like rolling up to the box office for guys like Barry Bostwick, who you might have known as prototypical square “Brad” in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”; Michael Beck, who some of you who used to love staying up to watch “100 Percent Weird” overnights on TNT  remember dancing around a roller rink with Olivia Newton-John in 1980’s “Xanadu”; or Edward Mulhare, who you’d later see stuck having to do scenes with David Hasselhoff, a talking car, and a cute brunette who usually did nothing more than stand around a garage holding a clipboard. I suppose keen-eyed movie nerds may also recognize the comely lass in that picture as the late Persis Khambatta, better known as the bald alien from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

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Bostwick starred as “Ace Hunter,” the kind of nominal “hero” you’re supposed to root for as he trots around with his blow-dried coif gently bouncing as he spouted ridiculous hero-isms like “You love ‘em in red, you love ‘em blue, but most of all you love ‘em in red,” “The good guys always win, even in the ‘80s,” and “It’s all on the wheel,” which I guess was his philosophical way of saying “what goes around comes around.” Why say it like that when you could say it in a way that doesn’t make sense?

Plot? Well, it’s your usual “terrorist takes over peaceful middle eastern republic, republic sends lady ambassador to recruit paramilitary peacekeeping strike force” movie. Sort of like a cross between the U.N., The Globetrotters, and The Thunderbirds, MegaForce was just your usual gang of equally blow-dried action guys all clad in a wide ranging array of upsetting jumpsuits, each and every one an expert in doing wheelies and burnouts while launching rockets from any number of high-tech vehicles they had access to, all of which were decorated in really ugly shades of white and brown.

This makes sense given that the director and co-writer was the late Hal Needham, a stuntman turned screenwriter and director whose name is writ large in certain circles of ‘70s cinema. Namely any movie that featured Burt Reynolds, cars, explosions, and maybe a stray elephant, Dom DeLuise or Jerry Reed. For Needham wrote and directed “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Cannonball Run,” as well as their respective first sequels. Why he wasn’t involved with “Smokey and the Bandit Part 3” or “Speed Zone” remains a mystery.

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That era was just a skosh before my time, although such fare were staples of Atlanta Braves rain-delay movies on TBS as a kid, and ‘ol Hal did leave at least one mark on kids of the ‘80s with the 1986 BMX movie “Rad,” another flick which was on every, and I mean every, VHS rack all the way up to the 90S, copies of which I just found out are now routinely going for 50 bucks or more on eBay.

It’s been a while since I’ve sat through any of the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, but I do remember having a lot of fun watching cop cars get annihilated by eighteen-wheelers while banjo-music played. If only “MegaForce” had that level of fun. Mostly, Hal seems to have been content with setting up some cameras on tripods out on a dry lakebed and told all the stunt drivers to have at it. There’s one sequence, in particular, where MegaForce was supposed to pull off a daring daytime raid with a five-minute countdown, helpfully presented on screen. Here’s a trick: set your microwave timer for five minutes and count how many cars go by on the street outside your house in that time. That’s pretty much what it was like.

So yeah, “MegaForce” bombed big time, supposedly only earning back about maybe a fourth of its budget, and shuffling off drive-in screens by the end of the week. It was replaced at the Skyway by one of those R-Rated cheerleader comedies with a title that, no lie, was “altered for publication.” Yikes.

MegaForce’s only real accomplishments, other than a place in my heart, would be a truly crankin’ theme song by the group “707”, and some choice scenes featuring “IntroVision,” a budget-saving technique where actors were filmed in front of giant photograph backgrounds that they could actually interact with. It’s almost believable, except during the finale where Ace tries to ever-so-slowly maneuver his flying jet bike into the open end of a cargo plane while his buddies stand there rooting him on in a scene that comes off way more disturbing than I think they meant it to. Last, but not least, there was an actual Atari 2600 video game, which I bought from a Shelbyville pawn shop circa 1998, where you controlled a little blip that was a jet if you pushed “up,” a motorcycle if you pushed “down” and where you got blown up if you pushed practically anything.

In 2011 I used a version of the movie poster scanned from the back of one of my old comic books as the flyer for my thesis defense over at EIU, except with my name crudely drawn over the words “Ace Hunter,” a collector’s item for sure for any of you who snagged one of the many I blanketed Coleman Hall with. And you know I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend twenty bucks for a full-sized, lobby quality, MegaForce poster to hang at Castle Clint as an ongoing testament to all creative endeavors that blew up in someone’s face but are loved anyway.

Stil, why in the world didn’t I think far enough ahead to grab a used copy of “Rad” when I had the chance? If only I had known. Time sure is a weird thing, right? Or as Ace would have put it, a wheel.

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"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at cwalker@jg-tc.com.

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