Call it bad timing, but "Delta Force 2: Operation Stranglehold" is set in the fictional Latin American dictatorship of San Carlos. The original "Delta Force" was set in a fictional Middle East dictatorship, a coincidence that could have provided loads of free publicity these next few weeks. As it is, this sequel is going to need all the free publicity it can get.

Where the original film dealt with political terrorists, this one deals with the drug cartel. Impertinent cocaine dealers have a "stranglehold" on an America they have turned into "a nation of addicts," according to kingpin-from-hell Ramon Cota (Billy Drago). It's a story torn from yesterday's headlines; unfortunately, screenwriter Lee Reynolds has been reading only the National Enquirer and old "Miami Vice" scripts.

In troubled times, who better to ride (or fly) to the rescue than Col. Scott McCoy? Chuck Norris, the great stone face with hands and feet to match, is the colonel, and he's mighty ticked because Cota has murderered not only his partner but his partner's wife and baby brother, and kidnapped three DEA agents to boot. McCoy gets the presidential okay to mount a Delta Force rescue from Cota's supposedly impenetrable jungle fortress, and to destroy his drug fields.

Actually, Delta Force figures in this one only at the end. The first half of the film plays like one of Norris's detective thrillers -- Norris solo, Norris human, Norris getting mad. Most of the second half is also Norris -- scaling a monstrous mountain, engaging in martial arts combat with various henchmen (including one who looks like the comedian Gallagher gone very bad). Finally, the young, nameless, interchangeable Deltas come in, at which point the film turns into a scrambled essay on imperial empowerment and macho hardware, or perhaps wishful thinking: Dozens of bad guys bite the dust, but the black-clad good guys don't sustain as much as a bruise. This is, of course, the kind of film that features as many helicopters as women characters -- two of each -- and allows only one helicopter to survive.

Technically, "Delta Force 2" suffers from a bad case of under-exposition, as if last-minute budget cuts required the elimination of transitions, leading to comic book clumsiness. The film feels less edited than assembled, while director Aaron Norris -- Chuck's brother -- has, at best, delusions of competence. This is not his first directing job, but it feels like it.

For a supposed action movie, too much of "Delta Force" relies on leaden dialogue, further undermined by the overly broad acting of a cast cluttered with low-level character actors (Drago, John P. Ryan as a hellbent general, Richard Jaeckel as a DEA agent). True, there are two fairly good sequences -- one involving a spectacular free-fall chase in the sky, the other a more mundane helicopter-limousine race through the jungle -- but for the most part "Delta Force 2" is a B-movie, with B-actors, and it will B headed for cable and your local video shop very, very soon.

Delta Force 2: Operation Stranglehold, at area theaters, is rated R and contains some graphic violence.