Familiar Glickenhaus fare. Entertaining but utterly disposable.
God, I miss the Cold War. These newfangled Islamic fundamentalist types are far too good for their word. I remember back in the eighties when the threat of nefarious foreign forces always felt distinctly benign; that Gorbachev bloke was all mouth and no trousers. Not that Hollywood was paying much attention, mind you, with it's McCarthy-era history of Commie finger pointing leaving quite the indelible stain on La-La Land. Anyone stuck for a plot device could easily seek refuge in the hush-hush subterfuge of the Eastern block, which is clearly the escape route wannabe auteur James Glickenhaus adopted when looking for an excuse to blow stuff up in The Soldier.
Having caught the attention of studios with his low-budget "cult classic" revenger The Exterminator, Glickenhaus would soon cement his reputation as creator of disposable trash with firmly MOR action fare such as this little baby that sees Ken "who he?" Wahl kick all kinds of Soviet ass. Wahl plays the titular Soldier; a man with no name and what the Ruskies refer to as "an unusually broad charter", which is to say he answers only to the Director of the CIA and can subsequently do pretty much whatever likes in his mission to battle the forces of communism. When a suspected KGB splinter faction plants a nuke in a Saudi oil field and threatens to ruin fifty percent of the world's oil reserves for the next three hundred years if Israel don't pull out of the West Bank, The Soldier is clearly the man for the job and it's not long before all kinds of shit starts hitting the fan.
Of course any product of '83 is going to look dated, but given the now retro stylings of all things Red and the fact that as I write this Israel is about to withdraw from the West Bank anyway, it's hard to ignore just how archaic The Soldier is in plot terms. Even in the context of it's own era the superficial stereotyping seems lamentable, and the hackneyed gung-ho dialogue serves to highlight just how low-rent a screenwriter Glickenhaus is. Fortunately the man is not completely bereft of talent and, overly liberal use of slow-mo aside, Jimbo G does to his credit make the most of his action sequences on a limited budget. While the shoot-em-up plot pit stops bear all the hallmarks of a twelve year-old's action fantasies, it must be said there's some gratification to be had in any kind of stuntwork involving exploding ski lifts and a bevvy of Mac 10 moments, and in that respect The Soldier is admittedly punching above it's weight.
Action punctuation aside, there's not a heck of a lot more to write home about. Despite clearly having delusions of grandeur (the opening credits are accompanied by a rather minimalist and no doubt for the time trendy Tangerine Dream composition), Glickenhaus' budget clearly didn't stretch to anything resembling quality acting talent, a fact highlighted by the "special appearance by Klaus Kinski" announcement. The performances here are stecilled to the last, from the toothpick-chewing, shifty Russians to the righteous, square-jawed all-American hero. There's little faulting Wahl as far as functionality is concerned; as the Soldier he's suitably incisive in his choice of actions. The problem lies firmly with Glickenhaus' decidedly uninspired script that, unlike The Exterminator, leaves little room for wit or the kind of audience involvement a flick like this requires to truly succeed.
Very few well-worn stones remain unturned in the director's quest for schlock. Proving Glickenhaus' propensity for padding there's even some love interest for our hero in the form of a determined female Mossad agent. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but given that it has no bearing on the plot other than to afford the Soldier a dame with whom to walk off into the sunset, you have to ask why bother when simply not writing in the part would have made the movie more original on the strength of it's omission. It's this seemingly elctromagnetic draw of the director's to the useless, like some gigantic cinematic magpie, that really weighs things down. There's clearly potential and, dare I say it, evidence of directorial flair to be found in the helmer's handling of action, so the reasons for tacking it to a ten-a-penny script seem even more bizarre.
Obviously Glickenhaus likes to be hands-on, which would be fine if he were as decent a writer as he clearly is an action director. Unfortunately he is not. We may never know if his reason for insisting on penning everything himself is ego or cost-cutting, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. The Soldier had potential to be quite the avalanche of fun, but as it is it remains firmly rooted in the pulpy quagmire of 80s B-movie anonymity, resolutely embracing every cliche in the book. Glickenhaus will forever be remembered as being traped between the ambitious and the cheesey, walking the tightrope of commercial viability versus autonomy and falling off every time. God bless him though for trying.
I award this movie 2 out of 5 Units We Use
Ron Harper (Head of CIA)
Klaus Kinski (Dracha)