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Retro Review: ACES: IRON EAGLE III (1992)

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ACES: IRON EAGLE III
(US - 1992)

Directed by John Glen. Written by Kevin Elders. Cast: Louis Gossett, Jr., Rachel McLish, Paul Freeman, Horst Buchholz, Christopher Cazenove, Sonny Chiba, Fred Dalton Thompson, Phill Lewis, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Bower, Rob Estes, J.E. Freeman, Juan Fernandez, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, Inez Perez, Bob Minor, Branscombe Richmond. (R, 99 mins)

Released in January 1986, with the blockbuster TOP GUN still four months down the road, IRON EAGLE became a sleeper hit with its mix of aerial action, flag-waving Reagan-era jingoism, and a mostly hair metal soundtrack propelled by Queen's "One Vision," Dio's "Hide in the Rainbow," and King Kobra's "Iron Eagle (Never Say Die)." It proved even more popular on home video and on cable, inspired one blatant ripoff with 1988's THE RESCUE, and it became an unexpected franchise for AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN Oscar-winner Louis Gossett, Jr., who starred as Air Force Col. "Chappy" Sinclair, reluctantly helping an Air Force Academy reject (Jason Gedrick) mount a secret operation to rescue the kid's war hero father (Tim Thomerson!), who's been shot down and condemned to death by the fictional Arab country of Bilya. Gossett then returned to lead some young fighter pilots against some requisite Soviet bad guys for 1988's IRON EAGLE II. Both IRON EAGLEs were directed by veteran journeyman Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, THE ENTITY), but he sat out when it came time for 1992's ACES: IRON EAGLE III, which hands the reins over to John Glen. Best known for his long association with the James Bond series, first as an editor and second unit director on 1969's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, and 1979's MOONRAKER, Glen paid his dues and was promoted to director for 1981's FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and he went on to helm every 007 movie of that decade--with the exception of 1983's non-canon NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN--ending his run with 1989's LICENCE TO KILL. Glen brings some of the Bond mindset and style to the third IRON EAGLE outing, along with providing Gossett with an age-appropriate international cast of co-stars that make the film play like a WILD GEESE-esque proto-EXPENDABLES of sorts.






Just out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead), ACES: IRON EAGLE III finds Chappy spending his down time flying refurbished and customized WWII fighter planes on the air show circuit, taking part in staged aerial battles with three fellow old-timer pilots: German Leichman (Horst Buchholz), British Palmer (Christopher Cazenove), and Japanese Horikoshi (Sonny Chiba). Chappy gets word that his Peruvian-born Air Force buddy Ramon was shot down during an apparent rogue mission and his body recovered by the Coast Guard, with the DEA brought in to investigate when $250 million worth of cocaine was found in the wreckage. Unbeknownst to Chappy, Ramon was a forced accomplice in a Peru-based drug trafficking operation overseen by former Nazi Gustav Kleiss (Paul Freeman). Kleiss has taken over the small village where Ramon was born and is holding his younger sister Anna (former bodybuilder Rachel McLish) hostage, threatening to kill their mayor father if he didn't comply. Ramon and another pilot, Doyle (SILK STALKINGS' Rob Estes) are part of Kleiss' operation that's using a Texas Air Force base as a distribution point. Anna manages to escape and stow away on one of the flights, and once in Texas (we never see how she somehow manages to get off the plane undetected), she informs Chappy of what's going on in her village. When base commander Simms (Mitchell Ryan) refuses to listen to Chappy and instead opts to tarnish Ramon's legacy, Chappy once again plays by his own rules and talks Leichman, Palmer, and Horikoshi into using their WWII show planes to launch a covert attack on Kleiss' Peruvian compound and rescue the enslaved villagers.





ACES: IRON EAGLE III's plot is beyond ludicrous (credit screenwriter Kevin Elders, who penned the two previous films and went on to make his directing debut with the 1999 Dennis Rodman actioner SIMON SEZ), but the cast doesn't seem to be taking it too seriously, especially Gossett, who at one point mutters a required-by-law "I'm gettin' too old for this shit." In addition to McLish's Anna, the team is also helped by their air show promoter Stockman (Fred Dalton Thompson, who's unusually loose and likable here), and Tee Vee (Phill Lewis), the film's ill-advised comic relief. Tee Vee lives in the same decrepit slum apartment building where Anna is hiding with her aunt, in a laughably unconvincing inner city "hood" set that you'd swear was on a Bulgarian backlot if you didn't know the film was shot in Arizona (and don't miss boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, out-acted by his mullet in a brief role as a local cartel enforcer). For all the anti-Arab racism present in the first IRON EAGLE, nothing has aged worse than ACES' Tee Vee, who's introduced stealing a TV and at various points, is shown riding a shrieking donkey, doing impressions of Eddie Murphy and John Wayne, referencing the Fresh Prince, 2 Live Crew, and Milli Vanilli, and, in possibly the most cringe-worthy moment in the entire franchise, starts rapping and busts out a "My name is Tee Vee and I'm here to say..." The only good thing you can say about Lewis' performance is that it's marginally better than the one delivered by McLish, the early '80s female bodybuilding champ and focus of the 1985 documentary PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN. Married to IRON EAGLE franchise producer Ron Samuels, McLish's acting career began with ACES: IRON EAGLE III and ended with her next film, the Samuels-produced, Albert Pyun-directed RAVENHAWK. She gets to take part in a couple of throwdowns and she looks great glistening with sweat, but McLish is painfully bad, and being surrounded by an Academy Award-winner and a bunch of other experienced pros doesn't do her any favors.



Fortunately, ACES: IRON EAGLE III gets by on the screen presence of Gossett, Buchholz (the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN co-star even getting to wear a cowboy hat at one point), an Errol Flynn-channeling Cazenove, and Chiba. Working with a much smaller budget than what he'd been granted in his 007 glory days, Glen brings an unmistakable Bond vibe to the film from the drug cartel plot of LICENCE TO KILL, to some terrific action sequences and huge explosions, or Freeman's villain, somewhat of a riff on the actor's best-known role as the treacherous Rene Belloq in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, with the addition of a hammy German accent and a Blofeld-like facial scar (and a memorable one-liner when he gets a look at Chappy and sneers "Hardly the Ayran ideal, are you?"). He even has a standard-issue Bond villain henchman in the ruthless Escovez, played by perennial late '80s/early '90s bad guy Juan Fernandez, so memorable as "that shitbag Duke" in the 1989 Charles Bronson sleazefest KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS. There's also an outlandish action sequence involving Cazenove that would've been right at home in a Roger Moore-era 007 outing. ACES: IRON EAGLE III sat on the shelf for year before short-lived New Line subsidiary Seven Arts released it in theaters with little publicity on June 12, 1992, where it tanked in 11th place, grossing even less than WAYNE'S WORLD in its 18th week (it probably didn't help that it was R-rated, where its teen-aimed predecessors were PG-13 and PG, respectively). It was the first of two flops that summer for Glen, the other being the costly Alexander Salkind bomb CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: THE DISCOVERY, which hit theaters two months later. Glen went on to direct several episodes of the short-lived British TV series SPACE PRECINCT and made his last film to date with the 2001 Christopher Lambert espionage thriller THE POINT MEN. That same year, he published his memoir For My Eyes Only, and later contributed commentary tracks to the 2006 DVD editions of his Bond films. These days, the now-87-year-old director occasionally gives interviews and appears to be enjoying his retirement. Furie--also still with us at 86 and, as of 2018, still working--not-very-triumphantly returned to the franchise for 1996's straight-to-video IRON EAGLE IV, which found Gossett's Chappy Sinclair leading the usual ragtag group of young military misfits to stop a chemical warfare plot.


ACES: IRON EAGLE III opening in Toledo, OH on 6/12/1992


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