Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sky Riders (1976)

          While it’s not much of a movie, Sky Riders is novel in two regards—it’s built around the sport of hang-gliding, and it contains one of the longest action scenes you’ll ever encounter. In fact, the first half-hour is merely preamble for a rescue mission that unfolds more or less in real time throughout the remainder of the picture. So, if you can trudge through 30 minutes of small talk and do without nuances like clearly defined characters and memorable dialogue, you’ll be rewarded with a solid hour of fighting and flying. Set in Greece, the movie begins at the estate of American industrialist Jonas Bracken (Robert Culp). While Jonas is away on business one morning, a group of terrorists breaks into his compound and kidnaps Jonas’ wife, Ellen (Susannah York), and the Brackens’ two children. Once Jonas is informed of the crime, he’s forced to work with a rigid cop named Inspector Nikolidis (Charles Aznavour), who seems more concerned with capturing the perpetrators than rescuing hostages. The X-factor in the story is Jim McCabe (James Coburn), Ellen’s ex-husband and the biological father of the Brackens’ oldest child. Vaguely introduced as some sort of international criminal/smuggler/spy, Jim decides the police aren’t moving fast enough, so he uses underworld contacts to mount a speedy investigation.
          Jim soon discovers the Brackens are being held in a remote, abandoned monastery that’s perched atop a mountain and accessible by only one road—in essence, a fortress with perfect natural defense. Eyeballing the location in person, Jim gets an idea when he sees birds flying around—so he tracks down a group of American hang-glider pilots, who perform a traveling-circus act featuring aerial stunts, and offers them a pile of cash to serve as his personal airborne commando unit. Obviously, the people behind Sky Riders had to twist their story in knots to justify the hang-gliding gimmick, but once the movie gets cooking, it’s all good—with composer Lalo Schifrin’s exciting music leading the way, vivid images of hang-glider pilots zooming toward the fortress, and then trying to escape amid a barrage of gunfire, create genuine excitement. (Coburn gets extra credit for performing a few jaw-dropping stunts, like hanging off the skids of a flying helicopter.) So, while Sky Riders offers virtually nothing of substance—although York conveys intensity during brief scenes depicting her captivity—the action is consistently colorful and dynamic.

Sky Riders: FUNKY

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