IRON EAGLE ON THE ATTACK is part IV of the IRON EAGLE saga, made at a time when the series had transcended numbers. And theatrical releases. Specifically that time was 1995, so this is a little movie over on the fringes trying to keep the dream of the ’80s alive while DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, GOLDENEYE, DESPERADO, CRIMSON TIDE, HEAT, BRAVEHEART, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, SUDDEN DEATH and yeah, sure, MORTAL KOMBAT were keeping us occupied in theaters. So I guess I didn’t notice it.
According to IMDb, ON THE ATTACK went straight to cable in the U.S., but it doesn’t feel like as huge a step down in quality as some of the other TV sequels such as DIRTY DOZEN: NEXT MISSION or FIRESTARTER REKINDLED. It feels legit. Sydney J. Furie returns to the director’s cockpit, this time with a new writer, Michael Stokes (JUNGLEGROUND, NO CONTEST II, Paw Patrol).
The first thing you need to know about ON THE ATTACK: it’s the IRON EAGLE movie that sources its pilot team from a reform school. So it’s got the DREAM WARRIORS teen underdog thing going for it.
The second thing you need to know: DOUG MASTERS IS ALIVE! Sure, the hero of part I was shot down in the opening of part II, but it turns out he didn’t die, he just got captured by the Soviets and nobody found out about it until years later. Whoops. Sorry Doug.
Now Chappy – who has apparently abandoned his ranch and his aircraft “The Shadow Warrior” that he had gained at the end of part III – comes looking for bitter, somewhat-sober cropduster Doug (now played by the convincingly Jason Gedrick-esque Jason Cadieux [JOE’S SO MEAN TO JOSEPHINE]) for help teaching a class of troubled youths how to fly little yellow planes called T-6 Texans in combat trials against the Air Force.
Chappy introduces each of the students and their rap sheets – grand theft auto, assault and battery, etc. Rachel Blanchard, who later played Cher on the TV version of CLUELESS, is a hacker named Kitty who believes “Hoarding information is a crime against us all.” The most likable one is Wheeler (Joanne Vannicola, who kinda reminds me of a young Rashida Jones), who is your typical teen movie angry young rebel except she also happens to smuggle drugs on her plane. Some high level juvenile delinquency there.
Doug listens to their introductions and then says he hates kids and storms out. But obviously Chappy will win him over and rehabilitate him by getting him to rehabilitate the kids. It’s the rehabilitating power of rehabilitation.
As in previous chapters, Chappy bonds with his pal Doug by sharing beers with him, which is kind of uncomfortable because we know Doug is trying to quit drinking. Later Chappy finds him drinking a beer on his own and he grabs it and dumps it out, never acknowledging that he might’ve been recklessly enabling him before.
There are lots of references and callbacks to part 1. Doug is reunited with Chappy the same way he met him – seeing him wearing headphones and shaking his hips while fixing a plane. When Doug wants to stay out of a fight with corrupt military figures who are using chemical weapons, Chappy brings up the mission where they saved Doug’s dad. When Chappy wants to apologize to Doug he leaves him an audio tape where he mentions it too. “Y’know, I remember when you first came to me with your hare-brained scheme to rescue your father…”
I don’t think they mention if his father is still around. But we can all sense that Chappy is a father figure to him, and that they have some father-figure-son-figure stuff to work out. When Doug makes an emotional speech blaming Chappy for how long he was in the Soviet prison it’s devastating within the world of IRON EAGLE. “I waited, Chappy. I waited for you to get me out. And finally it was the politicians who stumbled across me.”
This tracks. To the original Doug Masters there could be nothing more pathetic than lagging behind the politicians. Those bastards.
“Did you press the Soviets? Did you try to verify those reports? Or were you too busy being promoted to General?”
“Hey, I’m not your son.”
You can tell it hurts:
One major thing missing is the rock ‘n roll. You might assume that’s because it’s a lower budget movie and they couldn’t afford to hire Queen and shit, but I will go ahead and believe it’s because Doug’s experience in prison burned the joy out of him and he no longer enjoys music. Chappy does, but only unlicensed; he wakes up the kids by singing “The Banana Boat Loader Song” and dances to a shitty “I Got You” soundalike on his jukebox.
So yeah, you can tell this is a little lower budget. Also you can tell it was filmed in Canada. There is a subtle clue in the still below.
So the IRON EAGLE saga is truly international. Yeah, it started out being kind of rah-rah-go-America kind of business, but there was cooperation by allies. The first one was filmed mostly in California, but they had to use Israeli jets since the United States Air Force wouldn’t help with a movie about stealing their jets. Part II was all filmed in Israel, III in Arizona and IV in Ontario.
Although this is either the weakest or second weakest of the series, it’s still quite enjoyable. I especially like the weird tangent where Wheeler flies off right in the middle of the combat games to have a quick meetup with her druglord, this guy:
I guess nobody has a problem with this world’s-biggest-KILLING-ZOE-fan motherfucker hanging out with his goons on a military base. And apparently she’s not intimidated by his skull rings and shit, because she attempts to pull the ol’ “sell him a bag of sugar instead of cocaine” prank. There are some repercussions, though:
That’s where they got the idea for FURIOUS 6.
So although parts I and III are the real gems, I’m happy to report that IRON EAGLE is a series where every installment has something to offer. They all have similar goofy charms but each has a different premise, so they don’t blur together. The two constants are “something to do with using airplanes for an unauthorized fight against bad guys” and the always great Louis Gossett, Jr. as Chappy, who feels like your mentor, father figure and drinking buddy as you watch. Since Chappy loves James Brown’s music so much I would compare him to The One. The stories of the IRON EAGLEs go off and jam but they couldn’t do it without looping back to that steady rhythm of Chappy holding it all together.
Apparently Chappy was named after Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the first African American four-star General. He trained pilots at Tuskegee and saw combat in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, among other adventures. He received numerous medals and honorary degrees, was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and has a Lockheed F-94 Starfire displayed in his honor at Camp Edwards. Still, I’m sure had he lived past 1978, become a fan of cheesy ’80s style action movies and had weird priorities he would be most proud of having inspired four IRON EAGLEs.