Operation Golden Phoenix (1994)

Operation Golden Phoenix CoverJalal Merhi has been called the Lebanese Steven Seagal. Unfortunately, I was unsure whether this was coming from his supporters or detractors.

Though he isn’t the waddling mass of chins and jowels that modern era Steve has transformed into, Jalal certainly has my backing in his claim to be Steve’s Middle East-based successor. After all, Jalal is prone to standing around muttering lines without conviction in between even duller scenes that he’s not part of. That’s vintage Steve right there. In fact, I would say that Jalal is selling himself short in that he is also the Lebanese Jean-Claude Van Damme since I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying due to his accent.

Some of that may have something to do with the fact that I was riding the fastforward button on my VCR during any scene that looked like it involved people just walking or running here and there. I could understand that a movie made with a $50 grant from the Lebanese government might have to resort to some shortcuts, but when a bunch of horsemen were sent out after Jalal to track him into the desert, did they have to do it slow motion? And did we have to see Jalal walk around until he somehow managed to end up at the hydroelectric plant where he was doublecrossed by his professor buddy’s two timing skank of a wife?

Most offensive though in the use of this sort of padding was the last 20 minutes of the movie. I suppose you could give director/producer/star Jalal some credit for trying something different since most films use the last scenes for the really exciting stuff, but when we have to watch the bad guys wander around ruins and consulting a map and then have to watch Jalal trying to follow them, it’s enough to wish that the Lebanese Steven Seagal was as immobile as his namesake. Say what you want about Steve’s movies, but you don’t have to worry about seeing him walk anywhere.

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Jalal did get in some action by participating in an explosive shootout with thugs and imposter cops who were intent on hijacking his van containing an ancient pendant he was in charge of bringing to a museum in Toronto. He did some stuff in slow motion, rolling here and there, pumping shotgun blasts into bad guys, lying on the ground and shooting punks in the ankles when strategy dictated, but then he got arrested.

I understand the movie needs to have Jalal framed for the theft of the pendant so that he can go after the real thieves, but couldn’t hejust have escape then and there? Did we really need to watch scenes of him roughing up guys in the holding cell? Or see him consult with his incompetent attorney? Or go to his arraignment? But things pick up once he breaks out of jail, right?

If by picking up, you mean Jalal visits his old girlfriend who works at a theater and she provides him with a ridiculous disguise that involves hair, eyebrows, and a mustache that looks like it was made out of lint, then yeah, it picked up a hell of a lot.

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And in what wouldn’t be the last or the worst stupid coincidence of the film, his gal pal just happens to have a friend who is an expert at forging passports and he just happens to be available at this very moment to forge Jalal a passport so Jalal to go back to Lebanon to investigate the theft of this pendant. You know, even though the theft took place in Toronto.

As badly paced and conceived as the first part of the movie was, it’s like Jalal completely forgot whatever little he knew about filmmaking once he gets to Lebanon. The pendant is actually one of two. Both of them together will reveal the location of some treasure. The bad guys still need the second one which is currently in the possession of a princess. Jalal learns the princess has the pendant and the professor tells him he has to steal it to prove that he didn’t steal it the first time. Or something like that.

Things become even more painful when the professor is kidnapped by the bad guys and is forced to translate the pendants to reveal the location of the treasure. The story hinges on the monumentally lame, I mean, fortuitous, development that just as the professor dialed into his computer at home from the bad guys’ computer, Jalal happened to be standing next to the professor’s computer and could see all the vital information that was going on.

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Good thing the professor’s computer was on at home. Good thing both machines had the same software installed that allowed remote access to and from the machines. Good thing they had compatible operating systems. (The bad guys were using a Macintosh Plus!)

And it was definitely a good thing the bad guy somehow got images of both pendants on the computer, knew to flip one and overlay it on top of the other, then somehow have the computer erase parts of the resulting image to reveal a map that somehow was able to be matched with a portion of Lebanon that thankfully could be compared/confirmed through the database of maps the professor’s computer had! And all this was accomplished over dial up! In 1993! I feel so stupid for paying extra for broadband!

A colossal failure and bore on every level, Operation Golden Phoenix can’t even be credited with endearingly dopey/amateurish moments like most of Seagal’s later output. Jalal simply fails to register as anything other than a guy with funny looking hair and a penchant for wearing too tight jeans (including a very orange pair) who seems to think that jumping through the air in slow motion and standing in his karate pose will pass for action.

As bad an actor as he is, he’s a worse filmmaker. The previously detailed scenes of people walking around endlessly, the lingering shots of bombed out sections of Beirut that have nothing to do with the moronic goings on, the crappy fight scenes, and best of all, the visible boom mike during the last scene in the movie all contribute to Operation Golden Phoenix‘s status as a cinematic car bomb designed solely to terrorize action movie fans the world over.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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