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Attack Force Z

cast: Mel Gibson, John Phillip Law, Sam Neill, Chris Haywood, and John Waters

director: Tim Burstall

90 minutes (15) 1982 widescreen ratio 16:9
Argent DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Aaron Callow
Attack Force Z tells the story of 'Z Force'; a unit of Australian commandos whose contribution to the Pacific campaign in World War II often escapes notice elsewhere in the world. With a top-secret mission, the Z Force volunteers, led by Captain Kelly (Mel Gibson), make a drop on an island off the coast of China occupied by the Japanese. With the help of Chinese resistance fighters, the squad leaves a trail of bodies as they search for a downed plane and its unknown cargo. A film that investigates the futility of war, Attack Force Z paints a different picture from many WWII action movies but is never particularly subtle, relying mainly on a colossal body-count to get the message across.

The release of this DVD probably owes more to the later success of its two young stars than to the film itself. A few years after Mad Max (1979), but before his Hollywood success in Lethal Weapon (1987), Gibson's performance in Attack Force Z is noteworthy only because he looks so young. Sam Neill's character, on the other hand, has more of an edge but, as his career has since demonstrated, he does not do his best work in war movies.

It is not the actors that let the film down, though. Tim Burstall's direction fails to engage and the action sequences in particular are overplayed and repetitive. Not only that, but we're never given much reason to care what happens to the characters. An awkward and cynical love-development between John Philip Law's character, Lieutenant Veitch, and the daughter of a resistance fighter, played by Sylvia Chang, is not a strong enough hook to capture the audience's affections. As for the other characters, it's often difficult enough remembering their names let alone being too bothered when they're shot to pieces.

Admittedly, the film's opening has a lot going for it. With the first Z-Force casualty, the film's dark undercurrent is neatly established and becomes a recurring theme even up to the closing shot. Unfortunately, these more interesting plot points are constantly obscured by the shoddy direction and lame-duck gunfights. Having first found its audience when released on VHS, it is possible that the DVD may do likewise and find its niche. But in a market flooded with re-releases, Attack Force Z struggles to impress.

A short documentary included in the disc extras is an unusually candid series of interviews. More than 20 years later, members of the supporting cast and the film's producer, John McCallum, seem happy to trash-talk their old colleagues and even the film itself. An original theatrical trailer and a wide selection of stills rounds off this largely uninspiring DVD.

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