Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Underappreciated James Coburn - SKY RIDERS (1976)

James Coburn has to pretty much carry this entire film on his bony back. This is not what I expected when I learned of the strong cast of SKY RIDERS (1976) but sadly that is what the rather limp script gives us. Much more light in tone than I expected the film shows us the kidnapping of Ellen Bracken (Susannah York) and her two children by Greek terrorists bent on forcing her rich tycoon husband Jonas (Robert Culp) to finance their organization's goals. Coburn plays Jim McCabe who is Ellen's ex-husband and the father of one of the two children. He involves himself in the negotiations and quickly realizes that the Greek police are at best ineffectual and at worst incompetent. He decides that the only chance the family has is to for him take direct action to save them and after secretly tracking the terrorists to their hideout he formulates a plan.

The movie is essentially a rescue film as McCabe uses his underworld connections to find a way to assault the nearly impenetrable bad guy lair proving himself a hero and making fools of the Greek authorities in the process. The method he uses is to cleverly talk an American hang gliding team into joining him in a violent attack on the terrorists stronghold for..... actually its never clear why these strangers were willing to grab guns and risk their lives on this cracked plan. None of them had any military training, weapons training or even any compelling reason to risk life and limb on this insane idea. And by the time the team is in a pitched machine gun battle with a mob of villains as the Greek police bomb the entire area I'm sure everyone watching is wondering just how stupid they all were. 

But the real reason to watch SKY RIDERS is to see Coburn as the cool, calculating guy taking on long odds and succeeding. On that front the film provides some pleasures but I was heartbroken to see the great Robert Culp turning in a performance that was flat most of the time. I'll admit the script gives him little to work with but he just doesn't seem to be bringing his talent to bear. Miss York is better in her underwritten role but is given only a few moments to do more than act brave and comfort her kids. The look on her face when Coburn bursts into her jail cell is great though as is the dialog between them in this scene. This isn't a bad movie but it isn't as good as I had hoped for either. With a cast this good and beautiful location shooting like this production has I expected a much better film. 

No comments: