Skip to main content

Hipster Holy Grail: Order of the Eagle (1989)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Order of the Eagle is a quiet, unassuming little action movie.  Too quiet.  The three or four scenes that approximate any tension at all are predictable and the rest of it is a lot of character introduction without any good payoff.  There's very little here to recommend watching, even though the product overall isn't terrible.

My Rating: 2 / 5

The Plot Summary

An Eagle Scout named Greg (Casey Hirsch) is camping with his troop out in the mountains/woods.  He goes off on his own, presumably to check off another merit badge on his list, and stumbles across the long-undiscovered remains of an airplane wreck.  Greg pokes around the cockpit and discovers a crispy skeleton and a plain briefcase inside.  His curiosity gets the best of him, so he takes the briefcase and checks it out.  Inside is an ominous yellow and black box full of floppy disks and a blinking light.

Now, right here is where I have my first problem with the movie.  Granted, this was made in 1989, so maybe the formula "blinking light = tracking device" hadn't permeated the universal unconsciousness as deeply as it has today.  Still, James Bond had been around for about thirty years and the Cold War should have implanted a lot of paranoid, creepy ideas about technology and surveillance, right?

So... why the hell does Greg just shrug and take the briefcase with him as if it ain't no thang?

I guess because there'd be no movie otherwise.  So, fine, whatever, Greg takes the damn briefcase.  And obviously, his momentary tampering with the stuff inside has broadcast a signal back to the shady folks involved with the disks.  One of them is Frank Stallone.

I'm not 100% on what exactly the deal is with the disks, even though Stallone explains it right up front.  I know it has something to do with the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the disks in some way implicate Stallone in wrongdoing that has ambiguously made him a rich man.  I guess that's all you really need, but I'd love it if there was some semblance of stakes.  Like, say, the disks contain launch codes that could trigger nuclear war, and Stallone is trying to sell them to a terrorist group.  That's a McGuffin you can sink your teeth into.

Anyway, Stallone is a big-time CEO muckety-muck who picks up on the signal and sets to work retrieving his stuff.  He pulls his Director of Security into his office and gives him a rundown, telling him where the disks' signal came from and using the ol' "any means necessary" shtick.  The Director of Security, Leo (David Roger Harris), is kind of a plain looking dude, which actually makes a lot of sense.  I mean, he looks exactly like what you picture when you hear the words "Director of Security."  But he doesn't look like an action movie villain.

Fortunately, he's got friends.  Leo pulls up his villain Rolodex and starts calling all his old mercenary buddies.  We get introduced to them by way of brief cutaway scenes where you get to see each of them doing something nefarious.  They're all interchangeable and unmistakably evil, and given that none of them have distinct personalities later on, it makes this whole sequence feel like padding.

But there is one highlight, at least in the "unintentionally funny" category.  One of the bad guys' introduction scenes is just him in a helicopter asking a lady, "Did you get those insurance forms?" And then she says, "Yes," so he pushes her out the window.  The end.

On it's own, that's pretty funny, because, y'know... shove.  I laughed.  But what makes it even dumber / funnier is that in order for the fall to be deadly, they'd have to have been flying for at least a few minutes to get to the right altitude.  Which means that whatever his scheme was to get this lady on board with those forms, he had to play nice and pretend that he wasn't going to shove her.  So I'm picturing the previous ten minutes in which he got her to come to the helipad, opened the door for her, chatted her up, and never once said anything that was even remotely related to insurance or forms or money, and then they sat around quietly, staring forward, until he goes, "So... uh... you got those forms, right?"  And only then, after he already chartered the flight and planned the spot where he'd have her killed and went through all the trouble of bribing the pilot, did he feel comfortable enacting his plan.

So, eventually Leo and five other assholes show up in the mountain/woods.  They're all heavily armed and clearly up to no good, but they try to pass themselves off as harmless deer hunters, anyway. They stop at a general store and ask Monica (Jill Foors), the shopkeep, for some directions. She points them on their way, then goes back home to hang with her boyfriend, John Billings (William Zapp).

In a previous scene that I skipped right past, Billings and his buddy Freddie (Perry Hill) ate some dinner with Monica and established that they're vaguely spooky mountain men who disappear in the wilderness for days at a time.  Monica handles this extremely well and remains ever-so chipper whenever Billings shows up for dinner.  The implication is that she treats him kind of like a stray cat, except she gets laid whenever he shows up.

Billings is introduced in the movie with so little fanfare and buildup that you kinda expect him to be there just to rack up the body count.  But as it turns out, he's actually our hero.  We just don't know it yet because he has so little screen presence.

Cut back to Leo and his henchmen.  They find Greg's campsite - apparently he hasn't moved an inch since we first saw him take that briefcase - and proceed to threaten the shit out of him.  Greg has stashed the briefcase in a nearby tree, and when pushed by the henchmen to reveal it, he remains quiet.  They hang around and threaten him more, until eventually night falls and they force him to build a campfire.

Then Leo and some of his goons leave to go find a phone so Leo can check in with his boss.  Why Leo does this, I don't know - I guess he wasn't clear about the "any means necessary" part of his job.  He calls Stallone and lets him know that they've kidnapped a scout, and he wants to know what do to next.  Stallone predictably tells him to figure it the fuck out, but then adds that he's sending another goon to help out.

...because I guess the presence of a scout freaked him out or something?  It feels like an unnecessary reason to shoehorn the lead villain, Jack LaRouse (David Marriott), into the movie.  Jack was briefly introduced in an opening credits background scene at the very beginning, but just like Billings, you really have no idea that he's supposed to be so pivotal until way too late in the game.  This is a movie where both the protagonist and antagonist feel like throwaway characters.

Anyway, before Jack shows up, let's cut back to Greg.  The fire he's built gets the attention of a friendly ranger, who the goons immediately shoot to death.  Greg uses the shooting as his opportunity to run away, and he hides deep in the woods.  The goons chase after him until they're overcome by a mysterious stranger, who knocks them out and then carries a wounded / unconscious Greg to safety.  (You'll never guess, but the stranger is Billings.)

Cut to the next day, when Billings and Jack can finally be part of the movie.  Jack lands in the wilderness in a small plane, accompanied by his personal assistant / tracker.  He tells Leo and the other guys to follow his lead, and then the tracker immediately starts to pick up on Greg's footprints in the woods.

Cut to Greg, who is recovering in Monica's house.  She and Freddie bring Greg up to speed on what's been going on, and then Billings tells Greg to take him back to the woods where he first found the airplane wreck.  They go back and fetch the briefcase, and then Billings snoops on the goons for awhile to count up how many there are.  Billings tells Greg to go back to Monica's house and get her and Freddie to pack up some supplies and start running, since shit's about to go down.

Greg does exactly that, and after he, Monica, and Freddie leave, an action movie almost happens.  The thugs eventually descend on Monica's house, and there's a gunfight between them and Billings.  Unfortunately, it's all pretty slow-moving and generic, so none of it feels very gripping.

The gunfight kicks off a forty minute chase scene through the woods.  For most of the rest of the movie, the thugs are just chasing Billings and/or Freddie and/or Monica and Greg, who occasionally stop to talk to each other and give/receive vague commands.  The disks are passed back and forth whenever they see each other, but Billings inevitably takes them back and then starts running away from bad guys again.  Once in awhile they'll kill one of the goons.

I feel kinda bad to just summarily dismiss half the movie in a paragraph like that, but I honestly don't have the energy to summarize each little moment.  It's forty interchangeable minutes that all boil down to the same thing over and over.

Eventually, it gets to a point where Leo and his comrades have captured Freddie and they're holding him hostage.  They manage to draw Billings out of hiding, at which point Billings is captured, too.  Then they get the disks and start heading to an airplane that's supposed to take them back to HQ so they can get paid and be done with their mission.  Jack tells Leo and his guys to go on ahead; he's going to stay behind and kill Billings and Freddie.

Then the pilot of the airplane whips out a machine gun and shoots Leo and all of his remaining goons to death.  Jack is about to shoot Billings and Freddie, too, but then one of the goons, who's not quite dead yet, sits up and shoots Jack.  Then they both die and Billings takes the floppy disks from Leo's corpse.

Cut to Frank Stallone in his office.  He's holding a newspaper with a headline that mentions fraud and the FBI.  His secretary tells him the FBI is in the lobby waiting to see him.  So he shoots himself and dies.  And that's about it.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

I know this might sound like I'm being sarcastic or damning with faint praise or something, but the technical aspects of this are alright.  I mean that as sincerely as I can say such a thing.  The movie looks and feels like a claustrophobic, low-budget affair, and typically that means poor sound and wretched lighting - but it both sounds and looks clear.

Beyond that, I mostly just found this movie tedious.  It's so much more of a slog than it needs to be.

The biggest problem has to be the cast.  I don't mean that the acting is bad - I just mean that there's too many characters.  Consider this: there are three separate lead villains introduced, each of whom has their own heavy.  Stallone is set up as the #1, top of the heap villain, with Leo serving as his heavy.  But then Leo comes into his own as the movie's functional lead villain, with one of his most merciless goons being his heavy.  And then Jack shows up with his tracker, and now you just have eight bad guys pissing on each other's feet and fighting for screen time.

It's not just crowded from a story perspective - it is literally, physically crowded.  Look at this:

That is not what a riveting action movie should look like.  That's the scene of a poorly-organized Meetup.  You should never have so many characters in a movie that they're literally just standing around waiting for something to do.

If you're making an action movie with this many characters, they should be dropping like flies.  Billings should be knocking them out Predator style until the finale.  That might be fun to watch - what's not fun is watching eight random white dudes wander the woods while acting pissed off at each other.

If my math is right, I think only three of the goons are actually dispatched by the protagonists.  Billings gets two of them late in the game, and Monica shoots one.  That's only about a third of the villains.  The fact is that Leo and two of his goons just get unceremoniously shot by some arbitrary pilot character late in the third act, which means that a completely random background character did as much work as all the protagonists did together.

Consider also that the movie sets up Greg as the lead protagonist for the first twenty-odd minutes, and now not only are there too many characters, but the pacing is all off.  It may sound strange to say that I want the action movie star to disappear, but I'd so much rather this be a movie about Greg by himself.  You have an unarmed Eagle Scout figuring out how to get away from eight/nine bloodthirsty terrorists?  That's a unique premise.  I'm honestly not sure what to expect.  It could be pretty tense.  You turn it into "one man with deadly training versus a bunch of idiots" and now I'm checking my watch.

The setting is a problem, too.  The woods can be good fodder for action scenes or tension, but you have to establish some sense of geography or magnificence for it to work.  Either find spectacular, jaw-dropping scenes of natural beauty and juxtapose them with horrible violence, or make it clear which parts of the forest you're looking at at any given time.  As is, everything just blends together like one continuous mashup of nothing.

I wish I could say more positive things about this movie.  There's nothing in it that's egregiously bad from a technical perspective - but the plot, pacing, and characters do nothing for me.  I'd have actually preferred something that was more poorly made so I could find something to grab onto.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It gets the full obscurity bonus of 50 points for having well under 100 ratings on IMDb as of today.  I'll give it another fifteen cred for the cast, but not the usual "you've probably never heard of them" bonus - instead, those fifteen cred are going to Frank Stallone and David Marriott, who was in Shotgun a few weeks back.  And finally, I'll give it another ten cred for outdated technology, since the whole thing hinges on floppy disks.

That adds up to a respectable 75 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch it on Youtube.