North Sea Hijack ★★★½

The 1980s, 19/100
1980 Ranked

ffolkes (Roger Moore) is a serious man. He is introduced as he drills his crew and keeps strict time on how quickly they can complete the exercise. Lloyd’s of London has arrived and is ready for him to put his crew to the test. Thus, the vehemently misogynist - he quit a club because they started admitting women, this is no sympathetic man - and cat-loving ffolkes is off. He must prepare the British fleet of oil tankers and stations for the event of a hijacking. Unfortunately, once given the mission, he is beat to the punch as Lew Kramer (Anthony Perkins) and his group of terrorists have taken off the British oil tanker “Esther”, will blow up fueling station “Ruth”, and has eyes on the “200,000 million dollar” station “Jennifer” should anything go awry with getting their ransom money. Desperate to not pay terrorists and fearing the collapse of the British economy as well as Lloyd’s of London (and, oh yeah, the lives on board), the British Prime Minister (Faith Brook) is bringing in ffolkes herself.

A far cry from his womanizing and light tone as James Bond, Moore’s character here is quite detestable albeit damn good at his job. Any chance he gets, he extolls the virtues of cats while decrying that women are even allowed on a ship such as this or involved in the process. He is sexist and ignorant, something that the film has to grapple with lest it become sexist itself. In that regard, it does do alright. It is not perfect, still firmly a product of its time, but it demonstrates via Sanna (Lea Brodie) a woman who blows up ffolkes’ every preconceived notion. “Jennifer”’s Captain, Mr. KIng (David Hedison), has a secretary, Sarah (Jennifer Hilary), who further stands tall during this time of crisis. Sanna faces predatory men in her space in “Esther”, fending them off and concocting plots to possibly eliminate Kramer without any outside assistance. As ffolkes and his team board the ship, she is unexpectedly drafted into service and more than holds her own, succeeding where some of the men failed. Sarah, for her part, is a valuable link to London and “Jennifer” as ffolkes and Admiral Brindsen (James Mason) - both sent by the Prime Minister - stare down Kramer on “Esther”. It may not push back verbally while having such a misogynistic protagonist is problematic in its own regard, but North Sea Hijack tries to demonstrate how wrong he is via its characterizations of the women he actually comes into contact with, showing him to be a deeply misguided man even if talented as a security consultant.

Beyond its sketchy and admittedly dated approach to sex, North Sea Hijack is perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment. Moore is perfect for the role, a deadpan and slightly comedic bit that is supremely British. It is so deadpan there is barely a pan at times, but North Sea Hijack does firmly plant its tongue against its cheek when it can. The running gag about his cats, his inability to interact with anyone without some awkwardness, and its overall embodiment of action movie tropes with a cheesy rendition on them, ensure that North Sea Hijack never comes off as a strictly serious affair. Anthony Perkins’ over-the-top villain only adds to this with Perkins chewing up scenery from the moment he is introduced. As things wear on, his increasing nerves and final grasp for one of the detonators are played just absurdly as the rest, thus helping to make the film successful in both of its pursuits as he is an unpredictable villain that drives up suspense while sometimes being a source of its stiff brand of comedy.

That said, the thrills are certainly the focus here but North Sea Hijack, as it does with comedy, is never too upfront about anything. Just as some will be mystified to see someone find this film quite funny, many will find it dreadfully boring. It is all about strategy, lots of dialogue, and very little in the best of actual explosions or fights. The only explosion for much of the film is a planned one, designed to trick Lew and the other terrorists. Otherwise, it is largely threats and negotiation that make up North Sea Hijack. Fortunately, it is still riveting and absolutely tense in this regard. The strong score and many moving parts make for quite the tense scenario with director Andrew V. McLaglen taking his time to set the stage for its final conflict. It is a battle between two men, ffolkes and Kramer, with little wrinkles being thrown in or issues that arise that throw both of them off their games and leave them vulnerable to a counter attack. It can be quite enthralling to see, almost a chess game of sorts that highlights the strategy side of such an operation rather than the action. Once that action does arrive, it plays nicely within character. It is not one filled with bombast or chaos, but rather a no nonsense approach from ffolkes - who hates mistakes - that goes “as planned” with his expertise and skill rising to the forefront. It is really the suspense beforehand with deadlines approaching, lives hanging in the balance, and an unhinged maniac sitting next to some explosive buttons that make the film so thrilling to watch, which is precisely the kind of action film that I enjoy.

Far from a classic, North Sea Hijack is nonetheless a light, fun, funny, and thrilling affair that scratches the itch of those who enjoy British action films. It is never all about bombast, but rather sly wit and strategy with some nice pay-offs at the end. Roger Moore’s character may be detestable, but Moore is so suave and confident that his overall positive presence is hard to deny. If one is in the mood for some light and easily enjoyable suspense, North Sea Hijack scratches that itch while also epitomizing the unfortunate capitalistic focus of those in power. At a time when lives hang in the balance, some being sacrificed in the name of keeping the oil industry, British economy, and Lloyd’s of London afloat is a sacrifice worth making apparently. Fortunately, ffolkes is on the job to help ensure everybody gets what they want.

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