"The Soldier" is an outrageously explosive, relentless espionage melodrama with a brash, irresponsible doomsday premise. Thanks to certain timely political delusions and hypocrisies, the farfetched effrontery of this vigorous but undeniably gratuitous and vicious spy thriller may afford a sneaky, unexpected emotional gratification.
Impact-happy from the outset, director James Glickenhaus elects to introduce his lethally effective good guys -- a quartet of clandestine CIA operatives commanded by Ken Wahl under the code name The Soldier -- by showing them blasting a gang of terrorist hijackers on a quiet Philadelphia thoroughfare early one morning.
Similar sensations abound, and Glickenhaus is not without gruesome, disagreeable fetishes in his area of overspecialization. For example, he shows a great fondness for the graphic display of impact wounds and the methodical preparation of booby-trapped murder devices. On the other hand, he also shows a breathtaking aptitude for elaborate, sustained action sequences. The best example -- a brilliant ski chase down the slopes of St. Anton in Austria filled with spectacular stunts -- exposes the slackness of similar spectacles in the recent James Bond films, especially "For Your Eyes Only." Indeed, the highlight of "The Soldier" might have been specifically engineered to put the skiing sequence in the last Bond movie to shame. If I were a member of the Bond party, I'd feel more than a little apprehensive watching young whirlwinds like Steven Spielberg in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and Glickenhaus in "The Soldier" roar past my cozy, but underpowered, old action limo.
It's conceivable that "The Soldier" might also become the prototype for a new adventure series. The tone recalls the earliest Bond movies, where the hero and his rivals still seemed persuasively ruthless. Like the current action heroes embodied by Mel Gibson in "The Road Warrior" and Armand Assante in "I, the Jury," Ken Wahl's maverick CIA operative is presented as such a hard number that he couldn't possibly get harder . Glickenhaus allows one hint of romantic vulnerability, a cryptic and awkwardly inserted interlude between Wahl and Alberta Watson as his feminine equivalent, a sultry chief of clandestine operations for Mossad, the Israeli secret service. The performers themselves suggest an enjoyable match of swarthy young champions, but their characters are so taciturn and grimly purposeful about The Mission that it seems inadvertently funny to find them taking a minute or two for mutual erotic relief.
Still, there are signs of deliberate humor simmering under the coldblooded, hard-as-nails surface of the scenario. The hero and heroine reveal a delightful deadpan aplomb as time begins to run out. Pursued by both German and American authorities on the streets of West Berlin, the intrepid duo is obliged to deliver an ultimatum directly to representatives of The Other Side. "Let's cross over into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie and have a little talk with the Russians," suggests Wahl. Directing him down a dead-end street with a transporter ramp strategically placed against the Wall, Watson assures him, "If you hit it at 85 in third gear, you'll make it to the Russian side."
What they're racing to prevent is a calamitous clash between the United States and Israel, maneuvered by Soviet-sponsored terrorists who purloin a stock of plutonium, rig a nuclear device in the Saudi oil fields and threaten to "render 50 percent of the world's oil supply unusable for 300 years" unless the Israelis agree to vacate the West Bank immediately. When they refuse, the president, a nameless desperate wretch played by William Prince, decides that he must authorize an American attack on the Israelis unless the CIA can come up with a slick covert bailout. But that alternative depends on the renegade exploits of Wahl and his buddies, operating without sanction when the head of the CIA is assassinated.
Ultimately, "The Soldier" is calculated to take satisfaction in the idea that the U.S. and Israel share strategic interests and are not provoked into deadly enmity. Another setback for the Percy-McCloskey-Ball world view, I suppose, but every setback of this sort, in the realms of either reality or fancy, is music to my ears.