I have always wanted to visit Namibia. The desert scenery looks absolutely spectacular. It is the sort of scenery that would have had the great American director John Ford drooling, with its scope for epic "Lawrence of Arabia" vistas. So when I found a film called "Skeleton Coast", which is a dramatic strip of desert hugging the northern coastal section of the country, I was interested. When I found the cast had Ernest Borgnine, Oliver Reed, Herbert Lom and Robert Vaughn I was sold. The story sounded interesting enough. A retired American Colonel enters Angola with a group of mercenaries to rescue his son, who has been kidnapped by guerillas and taken to their heavily defended fortress. The mission of course proves hazardous. A basic enough sounding plot, but good enough for me.
The film appears to have been made with German funding, which is no surprise given that Namibia was once a German speaking colony. What is a real surprise was how the film managed to attract such big name stars. I can only think that much of the budget went on their fees in an attempt to capture an audience. Reed and Lom have very small roles that were superfluous to the films flimsy plot. They are simply there for star clout. It quickly becomes apparent from the TV like production values that this film was made on a shoestring budget. Borgnines mercenaries are made up of typical stereo type characters. There is a knife expert, called Blade of course, a martial arts expert, a gun expert, an old salt of the earth ex British commando, an 'Incredible Hulk' lookalike, and a blonde that doesn't do a lot but is incredibly well endowed. Needless to say she was not employed for her acting skills! Character development is somewhat limited. The commando says of Borgnine to the blonde "He's a real good guy". She replies "Yes I like him a lot". That is about as profound as it gets! I have a suspicion that the script was written on the back of a fag packet whilst the writer was waiting for his donner kebab. There is one scene where the team simply amble into the stronghold dressed as enemy soldiers. No attempt was made for a more plausible ruse to gain entry. It is as if the writer was finding thinking too hard, and was running out of room on his fag packet.
The extra mature cheesy dialogue, the thick sliced ham acting, and the scary eighties hair styles make it unintentionally funny at times. Oscar winner Borgnine must have winced at some of the inane lines he was given. Given the right circumstances even great actors can be reduced to hamming it up! Borgnine at seventy was a bit long in the tooth for his role, but gives it everything as a sort of Hannibal Hayes in Africa character. Interesting to see that the old boy is one of the few of his Hollywood generation still around. The film has a lot of explosions that look more like the cheap fireworks my Uncle Bert used to let off in his back garden. The stuntmen jump about a lot in Zebedee fashion off of an army of spring boards. We get to see a bit of the scenery but not as much as I had hoped. This is not the sort of film where it is necessary to engage brain. If you like a few unintentional retro style laughs, then this film is not all bad. If not, then I should give it a wide berth.