Warbirds (1989) – Review

1/2 Star

Billy Hawkins is a Top Gun graduate, the best there is, but his latest mission will require everything he has got and more. The middle east ally nation of El Alahaim is under attack by radicals, and the United States needs mercenaries for a covert air strike. Their goal: to rescue the country and its leader Sheik Hadhi. The man assigned to assemble the squad is Col. Ronson, a no-nonsense type who recruits Hawkins, along with Jim Harris, a farm-boy turned ace pilot and Vince Costello, a CIA operative who acts as ground support. As the men plot carry out their attack it becomes apparent that they have stepped into a waiting trap, having been sold-out by a traitor within their collective midst. During the course of the ambush Harris is killed and Costello is taken as a P.O.W.. It is now up to Hawkins to rescue his friend and to save El Alahaim.

Warbirds is directed by notorious b-movie filmmaker Ulli Lommel. Probably best know for his forays into the horror genre, including the original Boogeyman and the effective 1973 picture, Tenderness of Wolves, this action adventure is clearly based on the Top Gun, Iron Eagle mold that was set during the late 1980s. However the movie is so cheap looking and ineptly produced that it is doesn’t even qualify for the good, bad movie moniker. Using what appears to be every last inch of available stock footage, the filmmakers have assembled a fighter jet movie with very little aerial combat or coherent editing. The rebels that have captured the Sheik are prone to sitting atop stationary tanks waving machetes and machine guns, while making loud proclamations and doing very little else. The military leader back home assemble in a war-room that is straight out of Luigi Cozzi territory. I’m not being factious when I state that Airwolf had better sets and production values.

The success of Top Gun spurred a wave of impostors in the years since, Warbirds is bottom of the barrel. How bad is it? You could pick any Iron Eagle sequel or even the Nicolas Cage dud Firebirds, and would be far more entertained. Surprisingly this film was reviewed by noted New York Times critic Vincent Canby, who had this to say about the affair, “Lommel takes filmmaking with complete seriousness”. Since that quote is embossed on the poster, the idea must be that even faint praise is positive approval. They are greatly mistaken.

Directed by Ulli Lommel
Stars: James Eldert, Cully Holland, Timothy Hicks

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