Remembering Hal Needham and his (not-so-finest film) Megaforce

When Hal Needham passed away last week, I was saddened, but not surprised. Needham, when he was given an honorary Oscar last year, said “I’m the luckiest man alive, and lucky to BE alive.” As a stuntman, he broke more bones than I think I have in my whole body… and he kept going. To be frank, I’m surprised he lived as long as he did… And what a life!

He was a stuntman for over twenty years (Trek sidebar: he was Gary Lockwood’s stunt double in the second Star Trek pilot) and when he became too old to keep doing them, he looked at writing and directing. It was there that he made his biggest contribution to pop culture. Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Hooper… these movies surprised Hollywood execs when they succeeded, and Needham was hailed as giving birth to a new genre: ‘Redneck Cinema.’ I loved Smokey and the Bandit, even though I was WAY too young to be watching it (my father didn’t really care – this was the man who showed me Barbarella at the ripe of age of 11).

I decided to revisit one of Needham’s films as part of this series, to celebrate the man’s life and work. But what film? I just rewatched Smokey and the Bandit less than six months ago, and it really doesn’t fall into the “Neglected Cinema” classification. I looked, but I couldn’t find a copy of Hooper (my first choice, and a personal favorite) at my local used video store.

I did, however, find a copy of Megaforce. So I bought it, and watched it.

Hoo-boy.

When I watch other movies for this series, I try and write a brief synopsis of the plot to let readers know what the film is about. Well, I started to do that for Megaforce, but then gave up. I thought, “If the writers of the movie didn’t care enough to come up with a coherent plot, why should I try and explain it?” The worse episodes of G.I.Joe had better plots than Megaforce. The plot, such as it is, is just an excuse to blow things up. The movie is bombastic, action filled, loud, and dumb.

And just doesn’t work.

I had not seen Megaforce since it came out in 1982… and for that, I am grateful. It’s a mess, with some of the worse dialogue I have ever heard and acting that is amateurish and sloppy. Barry Bostwick stars as Ace Hunter, wearing a spandex jumpsuit that reveals WAY too much… not to mention the blue bandana and super-styled hair. Persis Khambatta co-stars, and, as beautiful as she is… she’s still in this movie, and she can’t elevate the material (plus, whenever you have a film where the male lead’s hair is better than the female, you’ve got problems). The less said about the other actors (among them Edward Mulhare, Henry Silva and Michael Beck), the better… though Michael Beck is apparently the “Ted McGinley” of 80s movies, having also starred in Xanadu.

Two scenes are worth watching, just for the sheer ludicrousness of them. The first is a “love scene” between the two leads while they are skydiving, the second is a motorcycle “stunt” near the end of the film… a scene so incredibly stupid my IQ dropped a couple of points while I watched it. If you are curious, it’s on YouTube… and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If I was in the proper mood I would have enjoyed Megaforce as “dumb fun,” but I just wasn’t. Maybe if I had drank some Coors that I smuggled home from Texarkana…The one thing I did enjoy was envisioning Hal Needham, just off camera, cackling and hopping as he directed all the action set pieces and explosions in the film. I bet he had real fun making it… a lot less fun than I had watching it, unfortunately.

Life is what you make of it, and Hal Needham made the most of it. He influenced a lot of filmmakers, and entertained millions with his films. Rest in peace, Hal, and thanks for everything… except Megaforce.