Not a great film, but not a totally forgettable one either. It actually tries to tell two stories at the same time, one about a 'Gypsy' annex Jewel thief (Terence Hill) who joins the Foreign Legion and one about a Legion veteran turned alcoholic (Gene Hackman), who’s asked to train new recruits and protect a group of French archaeologists digging in the desert for a long lost treasure.
The film was supposed to present Hill as a more serious actor, but he’s still playing a Trinity like character, climbing on walls and trains, stealing jewels with a broad smile and charming the ladies (notably Catherine Deneuve); he does so rather well but the story of the infamous legion and local insurrections at the end of the colonial era, are no good background for Hill’s comedy capers. There’s an about face after an hour or so, and Hill is almost absent in the reminder of the movie, which is more serious and more concerned with Hackman’s negotiations with rebel leader El Krim (played by Ian Holm, uttering his few Arab lines with an awful accent) and his desperate attempts to avoid a massacre.
The film is rather slow-moving and the first hour is a collection of clichés, as more often is the case in these kind of international productions in which all nationalities speak zee ingliesh (apart from a couple of French and Arabic lines thrown in). And don’t forget that this was a Jerry Bruckheimer production: spectacle is valued higher than authenticity. Arabs are called Berbers, or the other way round, and Ian Holm may have grown a beard, but doesn't look at all like an Arab or Berber (his character was based on historic rebel leader Abd El-Krim, who was a Berber, and led a coalition of Rif tribes against the French and Spanish occupation forces).
For most part this is only a slightly above average desert adventure, but it’s definitely good-looking (parts of it were actually shot in Morocco, but most scenes were filmed in California); things pick up when the troups start to fortify the archaeological site they have to defend and the ultimate attack by the Arabs/Berbers is simply splendid, a truly great movie spectacle.