With the aim of overthrowing a wicked dictatorship in central Africa, a British multinational firm hires a small army of ageing mercenaries, led by Colonel Allen Faulkner to rescue the preferred leader who has been unfairly imprisoned. But it is a mission that will be betrayed at the highest level.
Something of an old-boys get together for past-it action heroes with the reputations of heroic drinkers — heaven knows what it was like on set — that for all its Neanderthal posturing, thanks mainly to this crusty but likable Brit cast and professional directing by no-mark Andrew V. McLaglen, remains a sneakily dumb pleasure.
You’ve got to get over a lot of nonsense to find its blunt treasure. That such a long-in-the-tooth gang would ever be sought out for mercenary action. That we should be rooting for mercenaries on some level anyway. That Richard Harris mawkish relationship with his son surely signals a bad outcome. That Hardy Kruger’s racist soldier will learn the error of his ways as he carries Winston Ntshona’s frail but noble leader on his back through the brush. And that the African foes will be treated like Zulu-like hoards of cannon fodder about as constructively defined as Star Wars Stormtroopers.
How is it then that we come to care? That the betrayed and, by now, very ragged gang of heroes make it to the supply plane and escape as the enemy hoards gradually close in. The second half of the film is actually quite thrilling, and the thing you can rely on with such stalwart character actors like these (Ronald Fraser, Stewart Granger and Jack Watson back up the leads with sturdy grimaces), is that they will deliver some rich, worthy characters for us to root for. When troopers we’ve come to care about perish, you’ll be surprised to find a real tug on your heartstrings — the sequence where Harris’ dignified captain can’t quite get onto the moving plane is devastating for those not too intent on great acting. But even that doesn’t mean we needed a sequel.
A superb old cast raises this above the average adventure combat film this really is.