'Iron Eagle III's' limp plot intrudes on flying sequences

June 13, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

There's about three good minutes of primo aviation footage in the otherwise helpless "Aces: Iron Eagle III" that just might compel it to the attention of those who love the old warbirds of the '40s.

It's unlikely at this late date that anyone will ever go to the expense to make a literal World War II movie featuring such craft as the Spitfire and the P-38, and their antagonists in a thousand life-or-death jousts over places like Coventry and Leyte Gulf, the ME-109 and the Zero. So when the film offers us a glimpse of these beauties screaming over the landscape at 400 miles per, or fishtailing through the stratosphere like trout rising to a bait, it's about as good as we're likely to get.

But there's this damned movie wrapped around the flying sequences. It features Lou Gossett as everybody's favorite cuddly Air Force colonel, Chappy Sinclair, now stationed in Brownsville, Texas. In this caper, he's involved in an air show (on Air Force time?) that throws restored versions of the old planes around the sky for the amusement of the millions.

Meanwhile, way down in Peru, an ex-Nazi drug dealer has taken over a village, turned the peasants to slave laborers and is planning to import tons of drugs via a connection to Brownsville and a corrupt Air Force general. Naturally, these story lines cross, and soon enough Chappy and three old pilots -- a Brit, a German and a Japanese -- are headed down to Peru to strafe and rocket the bad boys, in conjunction with "the guerrillas."

The secondary players are embarrassing relics. Poor old Horst Buchholz, once a pretty boy of the Eurotrash set, seems particularly debauched and dejected, his beauty still evident but nevertheless distended by the wattles of flab that inflate it. Paul Freeman has a campy turn as the ex-Nazi, but it's strictly slumming. Rachel McLish, a female bodybuilder, plays a Peruvian Rambette whose pants are always getting ripped in two.

It's not a high IQ-project. The moviemakers don't seem to realize that Texas is as far from Peru as it is from Africa or Russia; not quite a short hop away. They don't seem to know that the "guerrillas" in Peru are the Shining Path, as merry a crew of pure Marxist throat-cutters and bomb-throwers as exists anyplace in the post-Cold War world. They don't realize that World War II pilots wouldn't be in their 50s but in their 70s.

But mainly they don't realize that the formula is as defunct as the biplane. How many drug raid movies have there been, all involving the fantasy of an unambiguous strike against the scum who are ruining us with cocaine?

'Aces: Iron Eagle III'

Starring Louis Gossett Jr.

Directed by John Glen.

Released by Seven Arts.

Rated R.

... **

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