Barney (Scott McGinnis) and Luke (Jeff Osterhage) are two bank robbers in the mid-nineteen-tens whose speciality is to take sticks of dynamite and throw them at the banks, using far too much explosive which completely destroys the buildings and their contents. Somehow, they manage to turn a profit from this illegal enterprise, and the dynamite comes in handy when, say, they have to destroy a bridge to prevent a sheriff's posse from catching them. But they go too far one night when they are trapped by a group of henchmen whose boss offers them one option: the boys must now join the British Army and fight in World War One, which they then do...
Sky Bandits, though you hardly ever hear of it now, was one of the costliest flops of the eighties, and one of the most disastrous British releases of that or any other decade, so much so that it was never released to British cinemas and snuck out on video instead. It was apparently conceived as one of those "adventure" movies that followed in the wake of Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, though this eschewed the fantastical elements. Nevertheless, the, shall we say, less believable parts of the story were of a piece with the more cartoonish style that so many of those knock-offs adopted, most notably in the action-packed finale as the dogfights ensued.
That's dogfights as in aerial dogfights, there was no animal cruelty in Sky Bandits (renamed Gunbus in some territories). This plot point was an excuse to get the obnoxious Barney and Luke in the air, for the director was Zoran Perisic, a special effects designer whose speciality was back projection, as seen to its greatest effect in the 1978 Superman blockbuster. Alas, though he could be very accomplished in his techniques, for some reason that skill was nowhere to be seen here, as the effects were nothing short of diabolical, with such obvious fakery that it must have taken some cheek to ask the audience to swallow what we were seeing was the result of millions of dollars.
Not helping was the airbase our heroes (using the word loosely) wind up on - they shoot down a bomber plane on the battlefield with just a pair of pistols, somehow, which gets them invited to become pilots. On said base there was Ronald Lacey as Fritz, a comedy German who was on the Allies' side and whose speciality was building aircraft out of junk parts, not what ever happened in the actual First World War, or at least history does not record the brave Brits flying into a skirmish in a repurposed car with wings stuck on. What this appeared to be was the consequence of too much affection for Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the sixties with one of their trademark earworm theme songs ("Stop the pigeon! Stop the pigeon!") and their accustomed lack of logic.
So in effect, Fritz was Clunk from that toon, the wacky inventor who designed various outlandish planes, though there the analogy fell down, for there was no Dick Dastardly or Muttley to be seen here, not that the characters were any less broadly drawn (just not literally). We are supposed to warm to Bo and Luke or whatever they were called because they are dashing rogues, yet they were more akin to assholes who bluffed their way through the mayhem without learning a single lesson. It was solely down to the side they were on in the war that we were asked to find them amusing, otherwise their extreme self-interest, marked out in their womanising and drinking as well as trying to keep up their thieving ways, were highly resistible. Not that anyone else had much of a notion of how to play this half-baked material, no, not even Nicholas Lyndhurst who showed up on the airfield as a mechanic, which should give you some idea of how misconceived Sky Bandits was, Death Star enemy airship and all. Music by Alfi Kabiljo.