Reliving Perot's 1979 rescue. Lancaster, Crenna star in Rambo-like miniseries
IRAN is the locale of a Rambo-like new miniseries that qualifies as perhaps the ultimate caper movie. On Wings Of Eagles (NBC, Sunday, 8-11 p.m.; Monday, 9-11 p.m.) is the dramatized true story of the 1979 secret rescue mission of H. Ross Perot and his team from Texas-based Electronic Data Systems Corporation (EDS). They invaded Iran in the early days of Ayatollah Khomeini's regime to free two of the company's executives, who had been imprisoned in December 1978 by the Shah's government, investigating possible corruption in a computer contract award to EDS.
``On Wings of Eagles'' is basically a Yuppie caper film. All the hostages and most of the rescuers are young, upwardly mobile Texas executives, except for Arthur D. ``Bull'' Simons, the Rambo-like leader. Like many other legendary figures, the retired Army colonel seems to be classless.
Most of the planning for the rescue mission takes place at poolside or in the suites of luxury hotels. Money is the least problem, although the $13 million ransom seems a bit steep, even to multimillionaire Perot.
Based on the Ken Follett bestseller, the terse script by Sam Rolfe can hardly miss with such superb actors as Richard Crenna playing Perot and Burt Lancaster cast as Simons.
Director Andrew V. McLaglen shepherds his cast through a step-by-step docudrama version of the whole case. First, the arrest of the Americans and their detention under the Shah's regime. Then the revolutionary attack on the prison by Khomeini's followers, who are goaded on by Simons's Iranian operator as part of a plan calculated to free the Americans. And, finally, the captives' escape across the Turkish border.
En route they are aided by the young Iranian, who is eventually repaid with political asylum: ``Maybe you better come along with us. We Americans are just a bunch of immigrants. What is one more!'' says Simons.
Like most miniseries these days, ``On Wings of Eagles'' is too long. It could have been done effectively in half the time. Some of its attitudes are Rambo-esque. When former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark is encountered in the Savak prison, it is implied that he hobnobs with the bad Iranians. And, except for the one friendly Iranian who is also an employee of the company, the film tends to sneer at anybody who is not an American, especially other Iranians who seem to turn fundamentalist overnight when the regime changes.
Perot has enough clout to call upon Henry A. Kissinger, former US secretary of state, and demands help from top government officials, who listen even though there are hundreds of other Americans in danger at the same time. Eventually Perot takes matters into his own hands.
If ``On Wings of Eagles'' makes any philosophical point, it is that boldness, bravery, and ingenuity -- combined with money, power, and privilege -- can overcome almost any bureaucracy and all odds. And in the process, provide material for a thrilling, if over-extended, caper movie.