Apart from some vintage, black & white, newsreel footage of the historic British retreat from France in 1940, director Nick Lyon’s “Operation Dunkirk” (** OUT OF ****) has nothing to do with that landmark event aside from the setting. “Operation Dunkirk” reminded me of an earlier World War II epic, director Walter Grauman’s “The Last Escape” (1971) starring Stuart Whitman. These two Second War World sagas chronicled the Allied rescue of important German scientists. Whitman reached his scientist before the Russians. Similarly, a squad of British soldiers under Lieutenant Galloway (Ifan Meredith of “Metroland”) are ordered to find a German scientist (newcomer Eddie Curry) whose expertise in algorithms may significantly enhance radar technology. Historically, radar saved England from the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940. This critical technology enabled the English to detect German warplanes when they entered Allied airspace and alert Sir Hugh Dowding’s Fighter Command about them. Furthermore, radar meant that the heavily outnumbered RAF would not have to maintain constant full-scale aerial surveillance. This meant their pilots could grab some much-needed sack time between dogfights. Consequently, the premise that a German scientist would possess valuable technological information about radar which would aid the British seems unlikely. Meantime, this stubborn scientist has refused adamantly to share his algorithms with Hitler. Now, historical accuracy doesn’t always make a movie more entertaining. Consequently, Hollywood often plays fast and loose with the facts to heighten dramatic impact.
Anyway, back to the plot. When one of several, hand-picked commandos asks Colonel Plummer (Gerard Pauwels of “Resurrection”) about their evacuation, Plummer barks, “Pull your balls out of your throat and be a soldier.” Later, Galloway and his five men cruise off in a jeep to a rendezvous with the French Resistance. Armed with American .50 caliber Thompson submachine guns, they leave the jeep and cross a cornfield. They don’t behave like battlefield veterans because they walk too closely together without a scout either at point or on drag. When they arrive at a huge lumber storage facility, a member of the French Resistance challenges them. By this time, the villainous Nazi officer, Strasser (Michael Wouters of “Sins of the Guilty”) has shot the unfortunate scientist to death. Galloway reacts with incredulity when the Resistance explains that they have a woman, Angelique (Kimberley Hews of “The Other Wife”), for him to escort back to headquarters. Not only is Angelique the late scientist’s daughter, but also she has memorized the algorithm. Not long after the British show up at the lumber yard, the Germans arrive. The fact the villains are hot on the heels of our heroes and stay one step behind them is a positive point in favor of Lyon and his writers. Later, the same French Resistance member who challenged Galloway is captured, questioned, and then shot in the back by the Nazis. Meantime, Galloway refuses to turn Angelique over to the Germans. A firefight erupts. The Germans refuse to take cover. Instead, they stand in the open and blaze away at the British hidden in a brick building. The arrogant Strasser stands with his men as if he were bulletproof. The Germans riddle the building with a hail of gunfire, and then they discover to their chagrin that the British and Angelique have fled. All of this occurs during the first 30 minutes of this 95-minute epic. Happily, Lyon keeps the action moving forward at a steady pace. Ultimately, he brings the action right down to the wire with a last-minute appearance of the Royal Air Force as the air force routes the Germans.
“Operation Dunkirk” doesn’t rank as your average Asylum quickie, knock-off. “Rise of the Zombies” director Lyon takes and scenarists Geoff Mead of “I Am Omega,” and Stephen Meier of “Re-Generator” take themselves somewhat seriously. Unlike most straight-to-video Asylum outings, the action is depicted in a largely straightforward manner, with the unsavory Strasser relentlessly pursuing the British. Mind you, this is the same Nazi officer who not only derived sadistic glee in torturing, but also in murdering the scientist. Strasser enjoys burning the hand of Resistance member with a clothes iron and then impales it with a screwdriver so he can induce the Frenchman to squeal. At the same time, “Operation: Dunkirk” is a compilation of World War II clichés. First, Galloway and company must endure their commanding officer’s standard-issue speech: “This mission could not only save lives but win the war.” Second, a seriously wounded British soldier insists on being left behind by his fellow soldiers. When two Germans stumble onto him, he brandishes a hand grenade and blows them to smithereens. Third, another British soldier steps on a cleverly hidden German booby trap by a tree. Actually, these two scenes demonstrate Lyon’s dramatic strength as a director. He generates suspense and tension in both instances. My quibble with the hand grenade scene is that the soldier doesn’t know when to shut up. The ironic thing about the booby trap scene is that the British commander saves his soldier’s life, but a shattered tree branch skewers his thigh like shrapnel and lodges perilously close to his femoral artery. Meantime, it is interesting to note that Lyon provides subtitles so the nasty German officer can speak in German. Since I am not fluent in German, I cannot comment on the accuracy of both the translation or the German language. The appearance of Sherman tanks is a plus. Blood is spilled in most of the combat scenes, too.
Clearly, Asylum produced “Operation: Dunkirk” to cash in on writer & director Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming “Dunkirk.” Typically, Asylum cranks out knock-off movies that exploit bigger studio releases. Although “Operation: Dunkirk” is routine and often unrealistic, director Nick Lyon’s World War II thriller amounts to a better-than-average Asylum release.