Strategic Command (1997): If it Ain’t Broke…

Don’t fix it! Matty has fun with a familiar-feeling Royal Oaks action epic.

Rigidly sticking to the same formula that made their trendsetting Crash Dive (1996) so financially successful, STRATEGIC COMMAND is another rip-snortin’ Royal Oaks actioner built around a DTV draw, military hardware, and production value-adding stock footage [1]. As with Crash Dive, American Ninja (1985) hero Michael Dudikoff takes the lead again — and this time it’s a plane, a stealth fighter, a couple of jets, and a biochemical nerve agent at the centre of a story that’s basically Executive Decision (1996) meets Air Force One (1997).

In addition to its poster and the first half of its title being plundered for Strategic Command’s incredibly cheeky a.k.a. (‘Executive Command’), the former has numerous plot points pilfered and several scenes are even copied outright — most prominently a knowingly assembled mid-air docking that, in an amusing touch, works towards a big, Steven Seagal-style shock death but swerves at the last second. Air Force One, meanwhile, provides Strategic Command’s high concept. Though yet to start shooting, the script for Wolfgang Peterson’s patriotic Die Hard (1988) riff had been kicking around Hollywood with a fair amount of hype attached to it, and its presidential hook is aped here by having the U.S. vice president (Michael Cavanaugh) on board the flight that Richard Norton’s terrorist character, Gruber (wink), commandeers. 

With the sole exception of the sleepy-seeming Dudikoff (unfortunate and surprising — he’s generally invested in these sorts of things), Strategic Command is gamely performed. Cavanaugh and the mighty Paul Winfield exude their usual class. Norton is a suitably nasty and ruthless villain. Royal Oaks stalwarts Tim Abell and Larry Poindexter submit effective supporting turns as a henchman and a morally conflicted bodyguard, respectively. And A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) lovers Amanda Wyss and Jsu Garcia (née Nick Corri) attack their speech-bubble dialogue with relish — the latter in particular, as Strategic Command’s Seagal analogue. Sweary, intense, and ludicrously macho, Garcia almost walks away with the entire film, arm in arm with a pre Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston who similarly shines as a vain and cowardly news anchor. The star of the show, however, is Rick Jacobson’s bollock-busting direction. 

Having proved a dab hand at low-budget action across the likes of Full Contact (1993) and a bevy of Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson epics (Lion Strike (1994), Night Hunt (1996), and a pair of tidy Bloodfist (1989) sequels, 1995’s Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero and 1996’s Bloodfist VIII: Trained to Kill), on a purely technical level, Strategic Command might just be the Corman protege’s masterpiece. Aided by Gary Graver’s slick photography and some impressive foley that goes all in with the deafening, Michael Mann-esque gunfire, Jacobson has a ball and unleashes a polished and engaging opus that’s suspenseful, exciting, and energetic.

With a few bits lensed at such recognisable locations as the Twin Towers Correctional Facility and the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, Strategic Command hit U.S. video via frequent Royal Oaks partner Cabin Fever Entertainment on 6th January 1997 before slipping into steady rotation on Cinemax later in the year. Criminally, it was never released in the U.K. — but, as of this writing, the film is available to stream on Amazon Prime under its aforementioned alt name. 

Royal Oaks, Dudikoff, Cavanaugh, Jacobson, Jacobson favourite Marcus Aurelius, and composers David and Eric Wurst would subsequently reunite for another Crash Dive xerox, Black Thunder (1998).

USA ● 1997 ● Action ● 91mins

Michael Dudikoff, Paul Winfield, Richard Norton, Jsu Garcia (as ‘Nick Corri’) ● Dir. Rick Jacobson Wri. Tripp Reed & Sean McGinly

[1] The footage is mostly cribbed from the first two Iron Eagle films, with a few extra chunks coming from a handful of earlier military hardware flicks by Oliver G. Hess and Kevin M. Kallberg (such as Into the Sun (1992)) — a run that also liberally swiped from the Iron Eagle series. Incidentally, Hess and Kallberg share an interesting dual credit on Strategic Command: they’re listed as its VFX supervisors and as the providers of the film’s legal services.

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