“You’ve Got the Touch!” – Special Guest Review of Iron Eagle

Iron Eagle Movie Poster 1986

Oh, believe it. We've got 3 more of these up our sleeves, whether you like it or not.

Year of Release: 1986

Writers: Sidney J. Furie and Kevin Elders

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Oh, no, that was different.  Mr. Peanut was in charge back then.  Now we got this guy in the oval office  who don’t take shit from no gimpy little countries.  Why you think they call him Ronnie Ray-Gun? – Reggie[1]

On April 24, 1980, units of the United States military commenced an audacious nighttime operation to free the hostages held within the American embassy in Tehran.  Operation Eagle Claw involved personnel from every branch of the regular service, Delta Force, and a CIA paramilitary team.  Eight navy helicopters, 3 Hercules transport planes, and 3 MC-130E Combat Talon I clandestine penetration aircraft were to be directly involved in the rescue, while air coverage was to be supplied by two separate carrier air wings in addition to AC-130 gunships.

Operation Eagle Claw not only failed, it was a debacle.  The mission was aborted after sand damaged 3 helicopters.  A refueling accident resulted in the destruction or abandonment of the remaining helicopters and one of the transports.  Eight servicemen were killed, and the ensuing national shame cost Carter reelection.

Gossett Iron Eagle Contrast this very real, very tragic event involving (when you factor in support) hundreds of air and water craft and thousands of people, with the plot of Iron Eagle.  To wit: a crew of high school kids penetrates the computer system of a military installation through acts of espionage and discreet terrorism; steals a pair of fully armed General Dynamics F-16B Fighting Falcons; and runs reconnaissance and refueling support so that a retired air force colonel and an untrained 18-year-old boy can fly these two planes over 7000 miles to penetrate the air space of a sovereign nation, destroy, I think, most of its military, and rescue a downed pilot.  Successfully!

By this logic, Lyndon Johnson should have put the cast of The Goonies (1985) in charge of the Apollo space program.  But Johnson wasn’t president.  An actor-turned-politician was president, and his name was Ronald Wilson Reagan, and somehow that made possible a movie so implausible, so jingoistic, so unbelievably wrong that the American people wouldn’t have tolerated it at any other time in their history.

Iron Eagle isn’t just a bad movie, it’s shameful.

Iron Eagle 1986 young hero

Hmmmm.....seems easy enough.

Loosely based on the Gulf of Sidra Incident (1981), in writing the script Sidney J. Furie took out pretty much everything but the planes.  Doug Masters, played by a young Jason Gedrick, is graduating from high school when his father is shot down over an unnamed country on the Mediterranean.   Don’t worry – it’s Libya.  After learning that the military has no plans to do anything, Doug browbeats a retired air force officer – Louis Gossett Jr. reprising his An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) hardass role as Colonel Charles “Chappy” Sinclaire – into helping him plan and execute a rescue.  They are aided by a troop of Doug’s air force brat friends, children of whom Chappy says “You are the best staff I have ever had.”  Spoiler Alert!!! That dialogue and every other part of this movie is an outright insult to the men and women serving in our armed forces.

The soundtrack is tedious and the action is mediocre, a thicket of poorly-edited dogfighting scenes where the ordinance on the airplanes changes randomly between shots.  As one would expect, bigoted portrayals of the enemy on the ground as they are vaporized by cluster bombs and incendiaries.  Doug puts up about two dozen more kills than the most decorated flying aces of the Vietnam War.  Lead villain Colonel Akir Nakesh (David Suchet channeling a Saddam Hussein that no one in America had even heard of yet) gets his comeuppance – because none of this makes any sense unless its personal.  And when it’s all over, a military tribunal sends Doug to the fucking Air force Academy! By that reasoning, the fact that John Hinckley Jr. put a bullet into the president should have at least qualified him to be a congressional aide.

There’s only one occasion where a someone reacts to provocation with something approaching common sense.  When Doug is whining at Chappy to do something, Chappy responds:

You wanna help your father?  You be strong for your family.  You stay right here.

Every day this is what people in military families do – they wait, they hope, and they pray that the people they love will come back to them.  Of course this movie doesn’t miss a chance to spit on military families.  In the very next scene, Doug is thinking back to those halcyon days when his father allowed him – a minor – to fly his $14.6 million supersonic fighter [2] while the man was on maneuvers with other pilots in the actual air! And afterwards gives Doug a lecture about being a man and acting responsibly. Really?  This is how military parents raise their kids?  Maybe Doug should really step up and strap his little brother to one of the hard points on his F-16 when he flies it into combat so that the weepy tyke can also learn about being a man.  I’m sure that would make his dad really proud.

There’s no waiting in this movie, no patience.  Any character who hesitates is weak – and every adult character hesitates – and weakness is a moral flaw.  Only action satisfies, and it must be childlike and aggressive.  The weak should know their place, whether they are people or countries.  This movie so perfectly summarizes the attitude of that time, the total faith in American strength, in ourselves, in our righteousness.  The belief that, with Carter gone, America was finally ready to step up and do something about Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Iran – all the shitholes that wouldn’t fall in line.

Ronald Reagan American Hero


Do you remember how it used to piss you off?  As if when Operation Eagle Claw went south, the Ayatolla had insulted you personally? Teenage boy logic, covering the land like a national tantrum.

Of course Iron Eagle is now only an afterthought in popular culture, a John the Baptist of the fighter jock oeuvre.  Howling like a supersonic prophet in the Libyan desert, it proclaimed the coming of one greater than itself.  That movie opened 4 months later, and America would never be the same.

Rental Rehab review by Joshua, a regular guest reviewer and great asset to the RR team.

[1] Reggie is played by Larry B. Scott.  As the only young black actor in this movie, it’s pretty ludicrous how he’s so ready to give Reagan a pass.  I mean, come on.

[2] Fiscal 98 constant dollars.


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Filed under Bad Movies, Childhood Memories, Guest Review: Joshua, Insulting to the Military, U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!

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