Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Warhead (1977)

          Offering a textbook illustration of the need to imbue even the simplest films with proper character development and dramatic tension, the military thriller Warhead squanders a colorful premise and a unique location simply because the storytelling is so enervated. The movie’s just barely passable, thanks to the presence of a few violent action scenes, but, man, does Warhead seem amateurish at times. Cowritten and produced by Buddy Ruskin, whose principal claim to fame is creating the Mod Squad franchise, the picture stars humorless David Janssen as an American nuclear-weapons expect. Here’s the laughably contrived setup. After an American plane suffers mechanical problems and accidentally drops an (unexploded) experimental nuclear weapon near the Israeli-Jordanian border, Tony Stevens (Janssen), gets sent on a solo parachute mission with orders to find and defuse the bomb. Meanwhile, Israeli soldier Liora (Karin Dor), survives a sneak attack on a school bus by PLO guerilla Malouf (David Semadar). She gets teamed with Israeli commando Ben-David (Christopher Stone) to return to the scene of the crime and kill Malouf. Yet in the time Liora’s away from Malouf’s stomping grounds, Malouf finds Tony and the nuclear bomb. A struggle for control of the warhead ensues.
          Shot in Israel, the picture takes an extreme approach to sociopolitical stereotyping. Every Israeli citizen is portrayed as a saint, every PLO soldier is depicted as a rapist and/or murderer, and Tony—the sole American principal character—is depicted as the stooge of a warmongering superpower insensitive to the suffering of the noble Israeli people. It says a lot that the only scene in the movie with any idiosyncratic flair is the bit when a shlubby Israeli soldier (Art Metrano) castigates a fellow commando for sitting on the nuclear bomb. The location shooting adds a bit of flavor to the piece, especially during two minor scenes filmed at the Wailing Wall, but director John O’Connor exhibits precious little visual imagination, capturing dialogue scenes in static frames and photographing action in a rudimentary way. (The less said about the weird optical-spin transition the filmmakers employ to depict a rape, the better.) As always, Janssen trudges through the movie like’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders, which is to say he performs every scene with exactly the same degree of all-purpose intensity. Warhead is frequently very silly, with its ample clichés and platitudes, but at least it’s brisk and coherent.

Warhead: FUNKY

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