A while back, I went on a talk show to discuss Cinema 52. (If you consider an untelevised, unrecorded conversation at a theater festival for an audience of 20 in Portland, ME a talk show. They, uh… they forgot cameras.) While being interviewed about jet movies that aren’t Top Gun, the host, a Mr. Connor McGrath, local comedian, MC, and Asperger’s victim, offered to spend a day watching all four Iron Eagle movies with me. Yes, there are four of them, and yes, we did.

Pictured: Connor seriously reconsidering.

If you like facts and stuff, Iron Eagle was released a few months before Top Gun, but only on a technicality, as the movie was rushed out so it wouldn’t have to compete with a film that had a significantly higher budget and significantly more lead actors from Risky Business. There are three sequels because… sorry, why did they do that?

Connor and I decided that the Iron Eagle franchise’s assault on our eyes and ears just wouldn’t be enough; could we also murder our stomachs? To fully appreciate these cinematic stomach cramps, we stocked up on foods that we thought would make us feel just as shameless.

Okay, lemme IMDb a good Iron Eagle quote to kick this thing off. Here we go… hmm… well… huh… yeah… I guess…

In the words of… Reggie: “Why don’t you just land on the fool and get it over with?”

IRON EAGLE

Terrible food choice: We started with cold snacks. I picked up some pork rinds. Connor raided the 7-11 on his way to my apartment and made some truly startling selections: 7-11 hot dog potato chips, Funyuns, buffalo bleu cheese Combos, a 7-11 exclusive cherry-lime beverage, and strawberry milk.

I’m having family reunion flashbacks.

Observations:
So, it’s painfully obvious that this thing had a much smaller budget than Top Gun. When planes blow up, they’re clearly models… and they’re hovering in mid-air. Stationary. Connor points out that, as terrible as this looks, it’s only going to get worse as the sequel budgets get smaller and smaller.

Right, the plot, okay… so we see some planes go blasty-blast, and we cut back to America. Our main character is Doug Masters, played by Jason Gedrick, whoever that is. He seems like a bit of an asshole, because it’s the ’80s. He and his buds fly planes. Kids do that.

Oh no, classic ’80s bullies!

If you hold your ear to the screen, you can hear one of his buddies say, “You tell him!”

Also, Jan Levinson-Gould is in this.

She serves no purpose to the story whatsoever, except to show that Doug isn’t into dudes and is, like, totally cool and stuff.

But we already knew that.

So Doug gets a letter saying that he didn’t get into Plane-Flying Academy, and the bullies read it to strangers over the intercom at a fast food joint. You dicks! Now twelve people know something that is a fact! There’s only one way to settle this! AIRPLANE/DIRTBIKE RACE.

What an exciting climax! I mean, opening.

Did I say plot? Not one damn bit of this has any bearing on the story. Oh, wait, that’s not true; it’s where they set up the fact that Doug can only fly when he’s cranking terrible music on his cassette player. No, really.

No, REALLY.

Ugh, I don’t want to talk about this any more. Doug’s dad is stranded overseas and the government won’t pick him up. This will not do. Doug’s sassy friend who loves to dance gives a speech on what a badass Ronald Reagan is, for some reason, and Doug decides to take matters into his own hands.

If I have to really give Top Gun credit, nothing plane-related looks fake in it. I buy the cockpit shots, the explosions, the aerial stuntwork, and the displays in the jets as being mostly seamless. Here… holy shit. This is an actual read-out from Iron Eagle, not a supermarket check-out.

Imminent death of a pilot, or did somebody forget to remove the anti-theft device from the deluxe edition of Taylor Swift’s Red, featuring six tracks exclusively available at Target?

Also straining credibility: Doug in a computerized flight simulator, which somehow displays uncut video of him shooting planes. Even putting aside the lack of edits, why the fuck would the government actually blow up jets for use in their simulators? Jesus.

Oh, wait, they put a filter on it, now it makes sense.

The movie then pretty much becomes a bunch of goofy hi-jinks. The kids meet at their unrealistically awesome clubhouse and hatch a plan to sneak onto a base and do some hacking or something. Connor: “Ahh, the pre-9/11 days when you could sneak onto an Air Force base by telling the guard that your sister might like him.” I’m going to guess this movie did not have the approval of the military. But it did have the approval of Twisted Sister, as their song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blasts while the kids do their hacking.

Oh, yeah, Queen, too. The best Top Gun could do was Kenny Loggins, maybe Cheap Trick (but just the band, not the awful song). The money Iron Eagle didn’t spend on effects must have gone to convincing Queen to let them have “One Vision.”

Right, so Lou Gosset, Jr. He’s in this. He plays Col. Charles “Chappy” Sinclair, and he will be the only consistent actor in all four of today’s films.

When I watched An Officer and a Gentleman earlier this year, I loved Lou’s performance. He really cranked it to 11. In these movies, he’s gone up to 14. That’s not quality; it’s sheer intensity. It was pretty awesome in Officer, but here, he is a full-blown cartoon character. At one point, he lays out the rescue plan at a restaurant, using pepperoni, olives, cheese cubes, carrots, and lettuce. This prompts Connor to ask: “What the fuck is he eating?”

“Doug, you’ve gotta try this Random Shit on a Platter appetizer!”

This movie knows what a montage is, because it has them, but nobody told them you can use one to make plans. I swear, thirty minutes of this thing is devoted to planning. Including while Chappy showers.

Jason and Lou are never in the same frame for the shower scene, suggesting the filmmakers knew this was inappropriate, but the characters never did.

Also, Chappy does this uncomfortably weird butt wiggle dance for the kids. Again, why is he allowed to be around children?

“The beach is THAT WAY, fellas!”

I’m sorry for all the screenshots, but this movie is baffling on several levels and you’ve got to see it to believe it. Okay, no more images from the movie from here on out.

So Doug and Chappy each jack a plane and head to the Mediterranean. Doug puts on some bitchin’ rock music because he can’t fly without it, and Chappy eventually comes to accept this stupid fact. They blow some shit up and the bad guys come after them in their own planes. Then… look out, ‘cuz… sorry, was I saying something? Lost my train of thought.

So Chappy’s dead and Doug has to rescue his dad on his own. Oh, was that abrupt? Because I seriously just described Chappy’s death better than the film. Planes kinda swoop down, and Chappy kinda gets near the ocean, and Doug kinda makes a face, and now Chappy’s a goner. That’s it. No explosion. No crash. Just accept it; Chappy was edited to death. He is really and truly deceased.

Spoiler alert: these exist.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here’s where the movie gets weird. Before he blew up or crashed or headed over to craft services or whatever, Chappy told Doug that he made him a special tape in case he died. What song could it be? Is this our first “two different races clash over musical preference” scene from beyond the grave? Does the tape include Eddie Murphy’s “Boogie in Your Butt”? Sadly, no. It’s a tape of Chappy giving Doug confidence-boosting pep talks and bombing instructions. What’s weird is that Doug starts asking it questions and the tape answers them. Later, Doug goes back to blasting tunes, but Chappy is still talking. It’s at this point that I can’t accept that any of this actually went in the script.

I think, when they were rushing this movie out before Top Gun, they wanted a few things to happen:

1) Doug cranks “rock” music on his cassette player.
2) Chappy gives encouraging advice.
3) Somebody dies.

When they realized they couldn’t do all three, cocaine, fuck you, we can do all three. So just like Star Wars, and just like Top Gun is about to also do just like Star Wars, they have a dead character provide spiritual motivation. But at least Top Gun is classy about it. There’s no actual implication that the literal spirit of Goose is guiding Maverick. Here… they couldn’t decide what the fuck they wanted. “Chappy’s voice is in Doug’s head… wait, but the audience will get confused if they hear a dead guy’s voice… but it can’t actually be his ghost because he’s not really dead… (zomg, you guys, I just spoilered that!) Okay, so, like, it’s on the tape, but it inspires Doug to– fuck, can you make cocaine milk? Like, just stir it in like chocolate powder? I’m gonna try that.”

Ugh, fuck, let’s wrap this. Doug contacts the head of the bad guys, makes some demands, those demands aren’t met, so he blows up their oil refinery. “Looks like they’ll be importing oil this year, Chappy,” Doug gleefully exclaims as I finally begin to understand how war works. A blazing rescue is attempted, Doug’s father is shot in the shoulder, and Doug picks him up and gets the fuck out of there.

My question: why doesn’t his dad fly? I’ve never been shot in the shoulder, I bet it sucks, but this whole plan was stupid at best. His dad is the true ace pilot, but they don’t even discuss letting him thwart their attackers as they make their escape, enemy fighters bringing up the rear. I dunno, shoulder injury or not, seems like a shitty time to make it oh-so-far just to get blowed up because your son, honestly, is an idiot.

Chappy wasn’t dead, SURPRISE.

IRON EAGLE II

Terrible food choice: T.G.I. FRiDAY’S Mozzarella Sticks (with marinara sauce in the box!)

Goatee, earring, and flaming bowling shirt not included.

Observations:
Okay, so since Iron Eagle I was a veritable steaming pile, it can only go downhill from here, right? Let’s just tune out as we kill our innards with cheese.

“Hey, Top Gun was pretty popular, but you know what else people liked? Stripes. Let’s make that.”

“Yeah, but the first Iron Eagle was a movie for kids. We’d have to–“

“Kill the kid.”

“Got it.”

Mission accomplished!

So the protagonist from the first movie, now Doug “Thumper” Masters of the Air Force, is fucking dead. Now we can start the This Is 40 of Iron Eagle movies.

Hey, who’s that wiggling his butt?

It’s Chappy, our favorite character from the first movie, doing what is apparently his “signature” butt wigglin’ dance! I like him so much, I’ve already forgotten about the horrible ramifications of Doug sacrificing himself to rescue his father only to get into the Air Force for his bravery and then die a horrible death! Wiggle wiggle wiggle!

So now Chappy is in charge (?) of some American fighter pilots, but get this… they’re mildly goofy! Like when they try to load tanks onto planes that aren’t big enough!

“At least get that crate of smoke machines out of the cargo hold first!”

So the plot they’ve decided to go with here is that the American pilots are assigned to a mission with Russian pilots. No, they’re not shooting at them; they’re working with them. No, with. I know! They don’t like this very much, and there’s a lot of tension. And if once being bitter enemies weren’t enough, one of these Russian pilots has booby parts!

“In Soviet Russia, women are competent pilots! Just like in America. So there.”

Now, at this point in cinema history, Top Gun has been released. The filmmakers didn’t have this advantage when they were duct-taping the first movie together, so they can pick and choose what worked when it happened to Tom Cruise. Here, they’ve decided to go with “forbidden romance with a colleague” and “macho stud.” Well, sort of. Meet Cooper…

Connor: “I feel like they tried to make Cooper look like a dopey version of Maverick.
Well, they probably weren’t trying for dopey.”

If you thought Maverick was a creep for following Charlie into the bathroom, Cooper ups the ante by watching Valeri, his fellow pilot, shower. For a while. It’s okay, they fall in love. Eventually.

To add to the Top Gun rip-offs, they do a bunch of training hops, and somebody has an issue with jet wash. But instead of dying, she survives. Oh, yeah, the one female is the worst pilot. So of course everybody makes a bunch of noise about how the military has changed, harumph.

Also, instead of a volleyball game, there’s a basketball game.

To further deviate from Top Gun, an angry Russian fires a gun at the ball.

Yes, they make a pun about how well he shoots the ball.

This furious, ball-assaulting Russian is never reprimanded. His actions are only treated as a heartwarming, hilarious moment. That’s the problem with this movie… it doesn’t really understand how to build tension and then dissolve it in a charming way. For example, the Americans call the Russians “monkeys.” That’s horrible. They then find out that the Russians have been calling them the Russian word for “monkey.” This, apparently, is adorable and everybody’s friends now. Nope, “horrible” plus “horrible” equals “2horrible” in this case.

There’s a later scene in which one of the pilots dies. Don’t pretend like you care, I certainly didn’t. While mourning, they go through his locker and find that he’s actually a very talented artist, and he’s been drawing caricatures of all of them. They look at the following pictures and go “awww” together…

No, nobody ever dances with explosives or wears a furry hat.

Probably the only moment of real tension is when they reveal that one of the Russian pilots was flying the plane that shot down Doug Masters. But even then, this makes no sense. Wouldn’t Doug Masters and Chappy be, like, world-famous after the events of Iron Eagle I? Connor pointed out that the military would have to have seriously overlooked their research in pairing up Chappy with a man who killed his friend. I guess I like that they managed to tie in Doug’s death, but seriously, it just feels like a better movie would have included Doug, not hilariously blown him up in the first ten minutes. There were better ways around Jason Gedrick being busy with… Rooftops, I guess.

What in the hell is this? And can I get Connor to watch it with me?

Connor and I are pretty exhausted by now, as am I retelling the tale of this journey. Stuff blows up, Cooper moves to a base in Russia to bone Valeri, end of movie. At this point, I already thoroughly appreciate the effort that went into Top Gun. Fuck, I appreciate the effort that went into the first Iron Eagle.

ACES: IRON EAGLE III

Terrible food choice: T.G.I. FRiDAY’S Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Poppers

Too. Much. Cheese.

Observations:
You should know that this is the movie that made Connor finally say “yes.” He found a plot synopsis and only needed to read as far as “World War II reenactors must stop a drug-smuggling operation.” Sold.

Friends, I’m going to warn you in advance: the first half of this movie is boring as hell, while the second half is sheer Wondermazement™. It is so Wondermazing™ that I’m going to recap the entire thing in screenshots, but only look at them if you truly think you won’t make an effort to see this film. But I highly recommend at least renting Aces: Iron Eagle III.

Okay, so the boring half: Chappy is back, sans butt wiggle, because he’s working in a World War II aerial show now. He is joined by a Japanese, British, and German pilot in authentic aircraft from those regions. Accuracy! Unfortunately, this also involves them playfully calling each other “jap” and “limey,” which I don’t understand, because nobody on the ground can hear them.

Guess what? The Nazi is the one without a mustache.

The main cast seems to get older with each movie. They try to get into some themes of aging and restoring your former glory and blah blah blah. It’s… admirably boring? Also in the film: newcomer Rachel McLish, who will kill you with death.

McLish merely simulates unconsciousness as a ruse.

The movie is pretty uninteresting. Chappy goes to investigate a prostitute… building… with drug… problems. Chappy’s not a detective, which is why this is very boring. He meets up with Rachel McLish, who, side note, is almost raped in this PG-13 film. Twice. Not to worry, she has plans for your rapist balls.

BAM!

This movie was such a yawner that Connor and I just kept making a bunch of jokes about how Chappy is way too proud that he’s never paid for sex. Like, a lot of jokes. Like, it never was funny, but we managed to do it until it was somehow Unfunnier™. Oh, and at one point, there is a hip hop version of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which I joked that, given the time period, it must have been by En Vogue. It turns out I wasn’t joking.

Yes, it’s available on iTunes.

You know what the Iron Eagle movies are really good at? Thinking the planning stage is more exciting than it is. All three so far feature copious amounts of drawing graphs, feeling things out, stocking up on supplies, checking and double-checking, wishing of good luck… they’re drug smugglers, go blow their shit up! There’s no story to these pictures beyond “something’s bad, let’s go kill it.” But they will talk about something bad for sixty goddamned minutes.

But once those sixty minutes are up… ho-ly shit

You can’t unsee these. If you really want to watch Aces: Iron Eagle III for yourself (and you should), scroll until the pictures stop.

IRON EAGLE ON THE ATTACK

Terrible food choice: Tombstone Double-Top 4 Meat Pizza

I wish it was the size of this image.

Observations:
Doug Masters is BACK! Wait… what?

Last known photo of Doug Masters.

Yeah, remember that dead character? The one completely absent from the third installment? He got better. No, I didn’t stop paying attention during Iron Eagle II; IMDb specifically lists this as a plot hole.

Here’s what’s extra baffling: the movie opens with a reinterpretation of the events of Iron Eagle II. Yes, they show Doug getting shot down all over again, but this time we see him pull his ‘chute and get captured by the enemy. To add to the confusion, Doug is not played by Jason Gedrick. He’s played by Jason Cadieux.

Yeah, they Bewitched us, but this time our Dicks are Jasons.

I’m kidding, that part’s not confusing, because they look exactly the same. This makes me wonder why they killed Doug in the first place when recasting him would have been the more obvious choice. If they killed him because Jason Gedrick wasn’t available… no, this doesn’t add up, recast or don’t put him in the movie. You don’t need to kill him. And then to undo it, without bringing Gedrick back… guys, I’m starting to think this isn’t a very well-planned franchise.

We find out that Doug Masters was imprisoned for years and is now a hard, grizzled shell of a man. He’s changed since his youth and his outlook on life has darkened severely– hey, who’s that wigglin’ his butt?!

Oh, Chappy, you rapscallion, you.

You know how most franchises learn from their mistakes and try to return to their roots? Well, they brought the kids back for this one. Now Chappy and Doug are the instructors at a special program that teaches juvenile delinquents how to fly airplanes.

“Now that I’ve frisked you all for knives, let’s get in the giant flying chunks of metal!”

Now, this may have been the cheese talking, but I couldn’t follow shit. I’m looking up the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, and all I can say is, “Oh, that’s what happened?” This movie is just the absolute epitome of boring. The most exciting thing in my notes is: “The kids play Monkey in the Middle with a sheriff’s gun and then threaten to shoot his cock off.” I don’t even remember that.

One of the major marks against this movie is that they’ve downgraded to prop planes that shoot paintballs. Yes, they had prop planes in Aces: Iron Eagle III, but they also had rocket launchers and a bloodthirsty Sonny Chiba. For comparison, here’s an action shot from the first Iron Eagle

Nice shootin’, Doug.

And here’s an action shot from Iron Eagle on the Attack

Go… Doug.

Now, that’s not a terrible explosion, but it’s the only one in the movie, and it only happens after Doug says, “You know, maybe I should just get a jet?” The first Iron Eagle rivals the Rambo section of UHF for ridiculous explosions. This movie… bullet holes are exciting, right? (For the record, they do fit the prop planes with guns for the climax, but… eh? They only fire a few shots.)

Oh, also… they brought the tape thing back.

“Am I alive, or am I Memorex?”

Here’s what I don’t get about Chappy’s tapes… what the hell is he saying on them that can’t be said any other time? If it’s vital information, that shit is always useful. If it’s a sentimental confidence-boosting speech, give it before he takes off. Really, I think these tapes reveal a massive ego. “The sound of my voice will inspire anyone. Better make it available for home use.” Chappy strikes me as the kind of guy who keeps a journal of everything he’s ever eaten, and always mentions that he’ll make it into a book someday… and really believes someone will read it. Man, Chappy’s gonna love Facebook.

Or blogging.

Hey, was that too meta? So is this movie. Doug has a line about his suddenly being alive: “That Doug Masters is dead.” He also references his recasting: “I’m sorry if you don’t like this Doug Masters.” The worst part about this is that he’s taking a drag on a cigarette and looking at his shoes while giving these lines. Yes, the movie is taking all of this deadly seriously. It’s the same with the tape; they could have mocked the first film for centering the plot around Doug’s need to rock out, but when Chappy hands him a new tape in this movie, it’s all icy stares. Does this franchise deserve the right to attempt this? I don’t know, maybe Grant Morrison can write Iron Eagle V: Rewind.

FINAL ASSESSMENT:
This is the shakiest franchise I have ever seen. It doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing in the first movie and continues that theme throughout. If I had to pick the best one, I’d come up short. Splice some explosions and the Ronald Reagan speech from Iron Eagle into the last 45 minutes of Aces: Iron Eagle III and you might have a movie I’d watch again. Connor points out that this franchise runs counter to the Star Trek quality rule: only the odd-numbered Iron Eagle movies are worth watching. Even then, not one of these is a Wrath of Khan. They’re more like four Insurrections plus the explodiest 45 minutes of the J.J. Abrams one. Here’s the basic rule: if Chappy does a butt wiggle dance, don’t watch it.

And, most importantly, even if the end of Aces: Iron Eagle III kicks all of the ridiculous ass, Top Gun is better than every one of these movies.

AFTERMATH:
I don’t think anyone wants to know what all that junk food did to us.

I’m pretty sure Connor and I are still friends; he looked defeated by the end. “This might have been fun with other people,” he said before he left. Supposedly, as retaliation for the hell I dragged him through, I have to watch Body Slam, No Holds Barred, and some wrestling match between “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Dirk Benedict of The A-Team fame. I will join him, because I’m a man of honor, but I may bring a tape along in case I don’t make it.