Lewis Collins (the UK series The Professionals) stars as Captain Skellen, British soldier in the elite Special Air Service (the title refers to the SAS motto) who infiltrates a radical group of pretentious anti-nuke activists (they engage in performance art on the side, for crying out loud) intent on carrying out a terrorist act on American dignitaries.
Skellen seduces the terrorist cell’s idealistic leader (Judy Davis) by posing as a disgraced former special forces soldier looking for payback; she falls for it, but her comrades are skeptical. He dodges their suspicions long enough to uncover their plot — to take the US Secretary of State and some high-ranking officers hostage and demand that a nuke be set off on British soil or else — but not prevent it. Cue the highlight of the movie, a ten-minute sequence where Skellen’s SAS buddies (played by the real deal) storm the building and waste the bad guys.
The movie was inspired by the Iranian Embassy siege of 1980 (which the SAS took down on live television), and the producers fast-tracked the project to avoid being beaten to the punch by another studio, to the extent that they optioned author James Follett’s novel, which he would mail a chapter at a time to the screenwriters. That it was a rush job is evident — the plot is anemic and the dialogue is often silly — but the feel of a good ol’ fashioned Cold War-era espionage novel is there, and the action beats are still fairly impressive. (Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis became instant fans, so much so that they hired director Ian Sharp to work as second unit director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit).
It also draws a lot of power from an excellent main cast, which also included Richard Widmark and Edward Woodward. Davis lends credibility as a curious form of villainous and, as the center of it all, Collins — who auditioned for the role of James Bond that same year but was deemed “too aggressive” in his performance — radiates a dangerous magnetism and is utterly believable as bad-ass. (He later applied to the Territorial SAS reserve unit and passed the entrance tests, but was rejected because of his fame.)
Cheesy, yes, but as pure vintage action escapism it’s an obscurity worth seeking out.