Gale Force (2002)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:


Hong Kong '97

Picasso Trigger

Gale Force

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Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

"Well, that should take care
of the cocaine budget."
We probably could have told you that someone in Hollywood would get around to making a movie centered around the idea a reality TV game show; Survivor's popularity and its legions of imitators practically guaranteed that someone in the feature film world would try to cash in. What we couldn't have told you is just how comical the results of those efforts would be. Gale Force is laughable on a number of fronts, but our greatest amusement came from the fact that half of the action footage came from other, better movies.

The brains behind Gale Force are no strangers to budget filmmaking: Jim Wynorski (working here under his Jay Andrews pseudonym) is responsible for such highbrow cinematic efforts as Vampirella, The Bare Wench Project, and Hollywood Scream Queen Hot Tub Party. Screenwriter Steve Latshaw (also working with a screen name, this time as Patricia McKiou) can be credited with penning masterpieces like Invisible Dad and Frogmen Operation Stormbringer. We hope that we'll never be called upon to give live readings of our reviews, because we doubt that we'll ever be able to say that last title without snickering.

"Must... avoid... blue screen!"
What sets this particular film apart from their previous work, however, is the ingenious idea to buy action footage from other movies and incorporate it into a new story. So they've got Treat Williams duded up in the same clothes as Arnold Schwarzenegger and he drives the same car, just so we can see the exact same car chase from Last Action Hero serve a different story purpose in a different movie. We've said many times that when you've seen one car chase, you've seen 'em all, but this is ridiculous.

Not that the action theft ends there, no sir: military helicopters from Predator swing over a jungle that is now set on a tropical island instead of Central America, and explosions from Casualties of War lend excitement to the lives of our characters as they try to survive this game show turned nasty.

...Hey, we were talking about a reality game show, weren't we?

Treat Williams plays Sam, a rogue cop on leave from the L.A. Police force. His boss will help fix the fallout from Sam's most recent fiasco (he discovered that the mayor's daughter engineered her own kidnapping and stepped into a pile of political poo-poo) – if he'll appear on a reality show. The producers want a "real live L.A. cop" to help boost ratings, and the boss gets to play Robert Stack on the network's Most Wanted show if Sam plays ball. It's an awfully complicated setup, but at least they had a long conversation about it so that we could run to the kitchen for snacks.

"So we're agreed. The women are
too well-clothed to be on a
reality TV show."
The show is called Treasure Hunt, and the object is to find ten million dollars buried somewhere on the island. There are eight contestants, and for some reason they break into two teams. Like so many fictional games in the movies, the rules of Treasure Hunt seem loose to the point of chaos. We don't know why the contestants break into two teams. We don't know what's to keep the contestants from ruining the producer's 13-week commitment by finding the treasure right way. In fact, a major plot point of Gale Force is that one of the teams does find the treasure –  the day after they arrive on the island!

Also on the island is a group of "ex-Navy SEALs" (any resemblance to real Navy SEALs, ex- or otherwise, in this film is purely coincidental) who are supposed to be hunting the contestants with paint ball guns. It seems unlikely you could get away with this in real life, since the contestants seem awfully surprised to learn about this part of the game, but it certainly would enliven Survivor. (The lawsuits following the show's taping would probably be more entertaining than the show itself.) And Big Brother would greatly improved by the same gambit, but they should let the SEALs use live ammo.

In fact it turns out the "SEALs" in Gale Force are using live ammo. At the invitation of the Jeff Probst-like host the not-SEALs are actually going to steal the money and give the host a share. When the contestants solve the puzzle to early and arrive to find the mercenaries hauling the money out of the ground, the not-SEALs decide to slaughter all of the whiny losers they can find. Go, not-SEALs, go!

"I'm a snake... and a rat!"
As we mentioned earlier, the film makes use of a lot of stock footage to cut down on expenses. Did they use the money they saved on car chases to make the stuff on the island more expensive? Hell no! They skimp like hell there, too. The "island" is all too obviously a botanical garden, the L.A. County Arboretum to be exact. Our belief in the uncharted jungle of this remote tropical island began to wane when the characters kept walking down well-worn dirt paths. We even spent some time looking for those little placards that identify the local flora, but we didn't see them. We did notice that a lot of effort was made to keep from disturbing the arboretum – no squibs were used when actors were shot, explosions and fires were inserted digitally, and the actors seemed careful not to fall onto any of the more fragile plants. This careful placement of falling actors is especially laughable when a couple of schmucks are struck by lightning and plop precisely onto their marks, twitching as if electrified.

Corners were cut with the actors too. The "big" name is Treat Williams. Apparently Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski chipped in to buy Treat's soul a couple of years back, because he has appeared in four of their films since the turn of the century. King of the B's Tim Thomerson shows up as the "Rudy" (a.k.a. taciturn old guy) character. Sadly, it looks like Tim's days as an action hero (even within the rather narrow limits of his previous career) are over. The guy's packing a spare tire now. Maybe he put the weight on for this film, to look older and more retired. Yeah, that's it.

"Wanna see why they call me 'Booger?' "
The only other recognizable actor is Curtis "Booger" Armstrong, hot off the set of Shanghai Noon, from which his part was mostly cut. Poor Armstrong. A lifetime of acting and he'll never be remembered for anything but the role of "Booger" in Revenge of the Nerds. Of course, he did return for all three Nerds sequels, so its not as if he ever tried to shed the image. The other characters are all stock movie-types: the sardonic soul sister (Pam Grier she ain't), the beautiful-but-sensitive love interest, the hardened black security guard with a secret past, etc. Pardon us while we yawn.

We could write all day about character actors and short-cuts in filmmaking, but the movie's real weakness is its script. The logical and dramatic holes in this film are overwhelming. Sam does things no real cop would do, such as take charge of a kidnapping case (doesn't the FBI usually handle those?). The game show is completely unrealistic – they buried millions of dollars on a tropical island and left only the host and a few cameramen to guard it? To top it all off, the second half of the film involves a hurricane and resulting tidal wave that moves in on the contestants – and the nearby network building (huh?) that broadcasts the show to "the mainland."

While the script was half-assed and the story mechanics were as inane as they could be, we will grudgingly give some props to Gale Force for providing a modicum of entertainment. They did corral some decent second- and third-tier talent (including some fairly attractive women), and the combination of existing action footage to match a new story was clever. We freely admit that this is much more entertaining to us than it might be to the average audience, but other b-movie fans might get a kick out of it too. Just keep in mind, Gale Force is never going to appear on anyone's top ten list, unless it's a list of the top ten movies starring Tim Thomerson – and a hurricane.

Review date: 03/05/2002

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