Here we have a classic example of the filone principle in operation via an opportunistic bit of titling to make the film sound like a belated sequel to the late 70s mercenary war actioner The Wild Geese but which in fact bears no relation whatsoever beyond the codename given the secret mission.
It’s directed by Antonio Margheriti, whose other work during the early 1980s encompassed somewhat more timely Apocalypse Now and Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-offs, most starring cult favourite David Warbeck and invariably using Philippines jungle locations and likely as not the talismanic Luciano Pigozzi in a supporting role.
The replacement of Warbeck by Lewis Collins, fresh from his long running stint in the British TV series The Professionals, gives the film something of a transitional feel. Having passed the selection procedure for the SAS reserves only to be rejected on account of his celebrity status, it doesn’t take long for Collins to establish his fitness for the role of Commander Robin Wesley. Indeed, he would in time appear in two confusingly similar outings for Margheriti, Commando Leopard and The Commando.
The transition between leading men is also aided by the way we’re thrown right into the thick of the action. Admittedly it’s soon revealed to just be a training exercise, but also serves to establish the no-nonsense professionalism of Wesley and his mercenaries and something of their respective characters. With the group’s pilot suffering an injury, it also provides a means to shoehorn in Lee Van Cleef’s character, China / The Colonel. He’s a grizzled veteran of no less than five wars – the Second, Korean, Vietnam and which two others, one wonders – who’s presently serving a prison sentence for smuggling, for which he is offered a pardon in return for his services.
The mercenaries, you see, are working for the ‘good’ guys rather than the highest bidder, in the form of two government officials. Ernst Borgnine plays the US Drug Enforcement Agency representative and Klaus Kinski’s, complete with an obviously dubbed voice, that of the British Crown in Hong Kong.
The hush-hush, unofficial mission entails destroying a Golden Triangle opium depot belonging to a powerful warlord, known as The General.
Assisted by local guerrilla fighters, everything goes about as well as can be planned, with the mercenaries putting the depot out of commission. Unfortunately the group also lose their helicopter through an act of sabotage, while Wesley discovers evidence of another store further inside The General’s territory that their employers had said nothing about, along with evidence implicating one or other of them as a client of The General.
If all this wasn’t enough, the mercenaries also free a number of prisoners. Though the majority are locals, one is a Canadian journalist whom The General got hooked on heroin after she came looking for an exclusive interview. She’s played by Mimsy Farmer, thus rounding off the name cast, with the rest of the mercenaries being played by German actors as another indication of where the rest of the co-production money was coming from.
As usual Margheriti and his writing collaborators Tito Carpi and Gianfranco Couyoumdijan prove better at dealing with action than character and back story. We get some attempts to establish additional motivation for Wesley beyond money, in the form of a dead brother or son, and understand that there may be something suspect about his point of contact with the British and US officials, but these remain at rather simplistic, comic book level.
If the film is a comic book, it is however also a very entertaining one when its playing to its strengths, even if some of the gimmicks, most notably a makeshift flamethrower Wesley uses from a helicopter, are preposterous and some of Margheriti’s trademark model work a touch too obvious, as when Welsey drives his car sideways along a half-completed tunnel to evade some pursuers.
If Collins’s SAS buddies laughed all the way through the supposedly serious Who Dares Wins, one wonders what they would have made of Code Name: Wild Geese.