Bat*21 (1988)

Bat*21 (1988)

The second of, what I describe as, Gene Hackman’s Missing in Action trilogy. Bat*21 sees the role reverted from Uncommon Valour and it is Hackman who is required to escape from enemy territory with Danny Glover and Jerry Reed doing the saving.


Gene Hackman’s filmography makes for such odd reading. He was never thought of as an action star, however, he has a pretty solid action movie collective on his filmography. Certainly he is no Stallone or Schwarzenegger, however, his action films were always that little bit smarter. In the case of Bat*21, the combat is minimal, however, the excitement is up there with the best. In my country, this film was quite difficult to find and I don’t remember it being a movie that was talked about.

I came to know of it, as there was a shop in the town I grew up in called Bat 21. After a number of years it changed its name and the rumour was that the film’s producers had demanded they do that. This rumour is probably a load of nonsense. One of the film’s producers was the star Jerry Reed and I love to think that he rocked up to the shop in our seafront town, in an 18 wheeler, complete with Fred, to lay down the law. 

Bat*21 (the film) is a solid adventure with a great cast and impressive visuals. The story could be considered weak due to it’s simplicity, however, I feel this works better as it is far less complicated than it could been. I suppose by 1988 a Vietnam wartime action movie was old hat and the market had been saturated by Rambo cash-ins from all areas, A-movies, B-movies and Z-movies.

What must have attracted Hackman to the role was some of the more dramatic moments in the film. Hackman’s character Hambleton destroys a family, through no fault of his own. Sees his brothers-in-arms lives taken in order to save him. Hackman shows the strife of these nightmares in the scenes following the horror. The film is based on a true story, however, events didn’t quite work out the same in the film. 

A key ingredient of the making of Bat*21 was the relationship between Hackman and Glover as Glover is the only contact Hackman has as Glover zips around the hot zone in his Cessna Skymaster. The two have chemistry and the strained relationship is perfectly effective even though the two do not share the screen until the climax. The legendary Jerry Reed appears in the supporting role as the likeable Colonel making the tough decisions.

Both Hackman and Glover are on their A game here and it very much helps propel the film. IMDB records that the film was possibly going to be made much earlier with Dean Martin as Hambleton and a post All That Jazz Ben Vereen. Thankfully, we did not get that version as I don’t think Martin would have delivered anywhere near the performance of Hackman.

Two other roles in support worth noting are David Marshall Grant as a nutty pilot with a bit too much time in the air. Clayton Rohner plays the aviation mechanic Glover relies on in his ongoing attempt to save Hackman. The cast of the film isn’t particularly large and we stay with the main characters most of the time.

The film helps depict a change in tune from showing the grand explosions of the war to a far more dramatic position with the likes of a bombing being carried out being shown fixed on Hackman’s expression, witnessing a bombardment by gazing into a flicking red light. His facial reactions showing the brutality and the realisation of what goes on on the ground when the firepower unleashed by the planes that he controlled prior becomes apparent.  

I was impressed by Bat*21 and I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it was, especially as it is a movie mostly forgotten and received little accolade when released. 

There is a wide and varied collection of artwork with some superb art. Funnily the most recognisable art is the nasty UK Vestron VHS with poorly thrown together images of Hackman and Glover.

There are a few imported Blu-rays available on Amazon, however, there hasn’t been an official release on Blu-ray or UHD in the UK. The DVD, the format I have this film on, has a good transfer for DVD, however, it is overpriced to purchase today on Amazon.


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