Review: Sky Riders

Robert Culp plays a wealthy industrialist whose wife (Susannah York) and kids are kidnapped by pre-“Friday the 13th hockey mask-wearing terrorists of vaguely European extraction and taken to a mountain lair somewhere in Greece. The terrorists have a list of demands, but Culp instead turns to an unusual source; James Coburn, a sea-faring adventurer and the ex-husband of York. He’s also the biological father of one of the children. Whilst the local law (represented by Charles Aznavour, of all people) seem to be playing tiddlywinks, Coburn is looking at a local troupe of hang-gliding experts…and plotting a rescue mission.

 

Enjoyable nonsense from director Douglas Hickox (The top-notch “Theatre of Blood”, the rather loopy “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”), is a very silly, faddish 1976 hostage rescue mission story with a perfectly cast James Coburn. Coburn to me was the coolest actor to have lived, and here he’s typically having a great time being James Coburn. In fact, the majority of the cast are good here, including a well-cast Robert Culp and a surprisingly good Charles Aznavour as the not terribly effective police inspector working on the kidnapping case. Harry Andrews (a Hickox regular) is a little underused as Coburn’s boat captain friend, but fellow British character actor Kenneth Griffith gets a plumb cameo as an expert in ancient tapestries who aids Coburn in locating the terrorists’ lair.

 

I particularly liked the fact that the dynamic between the two men in York’s life didn’t go in the predictable route of conflict. Nope, they both love this woman, both care about the kids, and they just try to get right down to getting them back. It’s a shame then, that the actors playing the terrorists are all pretty nondescript and uninteresting. It’s also a bit unlikely that essentially a bunch of circus performers led by a gypsy adventurer-type could take down a bunch of supposedly crack terrorists. In particular I would’ve liked a little more depth to Coburn, at least making him ex-military or something. However, Coburn and co do get quite a bit of machine gun-fire assistance when the authorities arrive, so I was willing to just go with it since Aznavour’s men are doing most of the heavy-lifting so to speak. It’s quite a fun finale with plenty of machine guns, explosions, and Coburn hanging off the bottom of a chopper for what seems an eternity. Jolly good stuff that, with Coburn himself clearly doing the stunt. The film moves at a pretty good clip which is more than I can say about that other film shot in the same Greek locations, “For Your Eyes Only”. It’s also been nicely shot by Ousama Rawi (“The Black Windmill”, “Gold”).

 

A bit underrated if you ask me, but still probably best described as an engaging B-movie, so it won’t be for everyone. If the idea of James Coburn leading a bunch of hang-gliding kids into a rescue mission against international terrorists sounds like fun to you, this is your movie. It’s obviously a bit silly, but it’s really watchable stuff. It’s fairly decently paced, though a little more character depth and a little less hang-gliding might’ve put this one even further in the win column. Top-notch Lalo Schifrin (“Cool Hand Luke”, “Bullitt”, “Dirty Harry”) score too. The screenplay is by Jack DeWitt (“Jack of Diamonds”, “A Man Called Horse”, “The Neptune Factor”), Stanley Mann (“Damien: Omen II”, “Eye of the Needle”), and Gary Michael White (the rock-solid “Scarecrow” with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman), with an uncredited assist from Greg MacGillivray (who is best known for making nature documentary films).

 

Rating: B-

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