Special Forces (2003) Movie Review

“Special Forces” has a running conceit that is liable to drive anyone who demands common sense logic from their movies mad. In it, a member of said Special Forces carries a shotgun as his long weapon of choice, while his comrades wisely carry assault rifles with silencers attached. Being that the soldier in question’s weapon is a shotgun, it’s obviously not “silenceable”. Which begs the question: If you’re part of a team that specializes in silent infiltration, and maintaining that silence for as long as possible, why in the world would you choose a shotgun?

“Special Forces” works better than expected as a stylish action movie with no relation to real life, the kind of movie where men with assault rifles decide, for whatever reason, to engage in martial arts fights instead of, you know, just shooting each other. It’s the kind of movie where, given the opportunity, the director decides to shoot everything from an extreme perspective, action scenes go on for about 5 minutes too long, and when there’s a major battle, bombs drop out of the sky even though no one seems to be firing them. But there are times when “Special Forces” tries to be more, and that’s when it flails about like a kid who doesn’t know any better.

The film’s setting is one of those nondescript Eastern European countries beset by a murderous general who is killing (from what I can gather) refugees on behest of the country’s despot. Naturally, this is a rather serious topic, and certainly one that doesn’t belong in a movie with 10-minute gunfights and kung fu. Nevertheless, a white-haired Marshall Teague leads the cast as Major Don Harding, a Special Forces commander tasked with infiltrating the Eastern European country in question to rescue one of those pain in the ass idealistic journalists who went and got herself captured by said murderous general. The general happens to have a history with Harding that goes back to Bosnia during the unpleasantness of the ’90s. It’s this history that second-in-command Jess (Tim Abell) is worried about, but Harding assures him that “the mission is king”.

Via two CGI helicopters, the team is inserted into the country, and makes their way into the city to meet their contact, a female freedom fighter that moonlights as an underground teacher. They also team up with a SAS commando (Scott Adkins) who had come into the country a while back, but lost his partner to the General, and now wants some payback. All of this leads to a lot of knife stabbings, shooting with silenced guns, karate kicking, and of course shotgun blasting. Special mention goes to those CGI helicopters, which are surprisingly more convincing than the usual set of cheapos that usually populates these direct-to-video actioners.

As a strictly genre entry, “Special Forces” is entirely watchable, and easily one of the more entertaining B-action movies I’ve seen in a while. There’s simply a lot to like about the film, but of course the ideal way to approach it is knowing when to shut down your brain (the whole shotgun fiasco is one, whenever the team gets into those endless shooting matches with the army of faceless soldiers is the other) and just go with it. Of course the bad guys mostly suffer from Stormtrooper Syndrome, namely their inability to hit the broad side of a barn, and the good guys never run out of bullets unless the script calls for an “I’m out of ammo!” scene.

The film’s leads, Teague and Abell, are convincing as commandos; either they went to movie boot camp, or they’ve been in so many of these movies that it’s become second nature to them. The only real standout in the supporting cast is Scott Adkins, who looks to be a very impressive martial artist in real life. He certainly delivers the kicks and punches with great skill, and is undoubtedly the film’s star in the Third Act. As the cartoonishly evil Rafendek, Eli Danker makes you hate him, which was obviously the whole purpose of the character. There’s not really a love interest, although the film does indulge in a quickie romance that’s too laughable to mention.

Although a high bodycount is usually appreciated in these films, “Special Forces” goes beyond the call of duty. We’re talking in the thousands here. Okay, maybe that’s stretching it. But Harding and company definitely killed somewhere in the high hundreds. Really, folks, even for direct-to-video B-action movies, that’s some serious cinematic carnage.

“Special Forces” was directed by Isaac Florentine, who honed his skills on various incarnations of the kiddie “Power Rangers” TV show/movies, and it shows. Everything about the film is exaggerated — when shot, soldiers are tossed into the air and sometimes jerked backwards a good five or six feet. If all you’re looking for is a good time without having to work that thing you call a brain, then “Special Forces” delivers for its entirely 90-minute run. In any case, it’s no more or less ludicrous than the recent big-budgeted “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, which also required a lot of suspensions of disbelief.

Isaac Florentine (director) / David N. White (screenplay)
CAST: Marshall R. Teague …. Major Don Harding
Tim Abell …. Jess
Danny Lee Clark …. Bear
Troy Mittleider …. Wyatt
Daniella Deutscher …. Wendy Teller
T.J. Rotolo …. Reyes
Eli Danker …. Rafendek
Scott Adkins …. Talbot

Buy Special Forces on DVD