(Not So) Rad Review: Good Guys Where Black (1978)

good_guys_wear_black_chuck_norris The following opinion might cause the internet to gain sentience and destroy us on the spot, but it’s not easy finding a truly great Chuck Norris movie. Yes, he did an amazing job facing off against Bruce Lee in The Way Of The Dragon and became the internet’s paragon of toughness, but what are his best movies? Have you seen the dull A Force Of One, The Octagon or later efforts like Hellbound and The Cutter? They’re not exactly inspiring, though his brief appearances in The Expendables 2 was pretty damn entertaining.

good_guys_wear_black_posterAdmittedly inexperienced in the realm of Norris’ films, we here at Explosions Are Rad figured it would be a good idea to go back and give his movies a watch starting with 1978’s Good Guys Wear Black. Norris plays John T. Booker, the leader of a CIA task force known as the Black Tigers during the Vietnam War. As part of the peace treaty signed between the States and Vietnam to end the war, Senator Conrad Morgan (James Franciscus) had to set up the Black Tigers, sending them into what should have been a deathtrap. Booker, being the best there is at what he does, though got out of there with some of his fellow Tigers. Five years later, someone’s not only killing off the Tigers and Booker finds himself in the company of an inquisitive woman named Margaret (Anne Archer) who seems to know an awful lot about what’s going on.

expendables 2 chuck norris posterThere are a variety of problems with the film, from a general lack of visual quality — the scenes of the Tigers in the village looks like it was filmed on stock that itself survived a war — to molasses-slow fight scenes, but one of the movie’s larger stumbling points is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There’s a war movie in there, there’s a revenge story, there’s something of a romance, there’s the odd combination of Booker being both a professor and a race car driver (which sounds like something a kid would make up while playing with several different action figures, all from different lines). There’s even a James Bond travel/spy element. It’s just too much, not that these elements can’t be brought together, but it’s just not well synthesized in this case.

The biggest problem with Good Guys Where Black, though, is that it’s just plain ol’ boring. The plot’s interesting enough, though a bit overcomplicated, but when you add that onto the previously mentioned slow fight scenes, a few glaring logic problems (why doesn’t he look for the guy who shoots the Black Tiger right in front of him?!) and a performance from Norris that’s a bit flat (though he definitely picks it up in the last 15-20 minutes or so), you’re not dealing with a recipe for success. In fact, this is the coolest scene in the movie:

From this clip alone you might think to yourself, “THIS guy trained with Bruce Lee? No way.”

We don’t want to be completely negative, so here’s a few interesting side facts. Norris’ character in Expendables 2 is named Booker which you can either take as a reference to this film or the continuation of the character. Either way, it’s pretty cool. Also, this film’s director Ted Post might not have hit a homer with Good Guys Wear Black, but he did helm four episodes of The Twilight Zone as well as Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and the Dirty Harry film Magnum Force. Oh, and don’t worry, we’re working our way towards mid-80s period of movies like The Delta Force, Lone Wolf McQuade, Invasion U.S.A., Missing In Action and the like. Here’s hoping we have better luck there!

Friday Fisticuffs: A Force Of One (1979)

a force of one poster As a 30 year old dude, I have a unique relationship with Chuck Norris (boy, that sounds weird). I actually didn’t see many of his movies growing up, but as a personality and character he was unavoidable. I mean, he had his own cartoon and action figure line in Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos, how rad is that? Long before he was a meme orwhatevertheheck, he was training Jonathan Brandis, and hundreds, thousands, millions(?) of kids how to defend themselves. It probably wasn’t until Way Of The Dragon that I got a real, good look at what he could do, but before then I’d seen a few episodes of Walker, so there’s that.

In more recent days, or as I like to call them the Blog Era of my life, I’ve had some pretty bad luck when it comes to picking movies from Norris’ filmography. I’ve seen The Octagon and Code Of Silence which were bad and okay respectively and Hellbound which didn’t do nearly enough with its Chuck Norris vs. The Devil concept. And the less said about 2005’s The Cutter, the better. Yet, burned as I might have felt, I still got excited when I saw that his 1979 film A Force Of One was on Netflix Instant, I got excited. And, thankfully, it’s a pretty good movie, though not one exactly packed with breakneck martial arts action.

In this one, Norris plays a former military guy/current karate champ and teacher who gets recruited by the cops to help them figure out what martial arts master is attacking and killing the members of their undercover narcotics team. While there are definitely some martial arts scenes, this movie actually felt and looked a lot more like a Dirty Harry/70s revenge film than the kind of action-packed spectacle I wanted from a Chuck Norris movie (or maybe I have a completely off-base concept of what his movies are like).

And yet, between a few fights that take place inside a ring and an ultimate one between Norris and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace (who also happened to be John Belushi’s body guard) there’s enough to qualify this as a proper Friday Fisticuffs entry (as you can see by the above compilation of fight scenes from the flick). The problem is that, even though you might know these guys are legit fighters, they look like they’re pulling punches and not going all-out on screen. Maybe it’s time I focus and watch Lone Wolf McQuade, the Missing In Action movies, Invasion U.S.A. and the Delta Force flicks already.

The Box: Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos #3, G.I. Joe Sigma 6 #1 & The Crossovers #4

This week’s trio of random comics were pretty interesting both in story and variety but also because I didn’t think any of them were stinkers, even though two of them are based on kid’s cartoons. First up we have Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos #3 (1987) from Marvel’s Star Comics, written by Jo Duffy and drawn by, ahem, STEVE DITKO (doing breakdowns) and Jon D’Agostino (finishes). I have fond memories of the cartoon and action figure line this comic was based on. In addition to being Karate Kommandos (which is inherently awesome), everyone on the team had a cool, unique power, weapon or skill set that made young me very curious.

The comic was pretty basic and surprisingly action-light, but it was still a well put together book. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to not worry when things that are not intended for me as the audience don’t interest me. I mean, this is a comic clearly intended for a kid in the 80s, it’s not going to blow my mind. The plot is a simple one, one you’ve probably seen before, but still done well with the sumo fighter Tabe telling different people different stories about how he met Chuck Norris in the first place. It’s fun and cute, but like I said, it’s also light on action. There’s only a few fight scenes and they’re either training or in good fun.

I was a bummed out because I didn’t get to see Steve Ditko draw those rad costumes I remember so distinctly from the toys and cartoon. Ah well, maybe I’ll pick up another issue along the line.

Interestingly enough, the next comic I grabbed from The Box happened to be another toy/cartoon tie-in, this one G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 #1 (2005) by Andrew Dabb and Chris Lee. I was leery because I haven’t had good luck with G.I. Joe comics from the box and also knew nothing about the Sigma 6 version of Joe aside from the cool toys that came out in the mid 2000s.

So, I was pretty surprised to find myself enjoying this issue. It helps that it’s basically just Duke in a cool underwater armor suit trying to single-handedly take down a below-the-ocean Cobra base. Sure it’s a bit silly and light, but it’s also fun and tells a story with robots and things blowing up, so what’s to complain about.

I also liked the art and character designs for the most part, which was a surprise because, aside from one or two books, I always thought Devil’s Due didn’t get the best artists around. There are a few pages that look pixelated and strange, but I think that’s a printing error.

I wouldn’t tell someone to go out of their way to pick this issue up, but if you happen to find yourself in possession of one, check it out before tossing it in the recycling bin, you’ll have a fun few minutes with the book. Oh, and it ends with Destro’s metal mask frowning and him saying “I need a vacation,” so there’s that.

Guys, I have no idea what went on in The Crossovers #4 (2003) by Robert Rodi and Mauricet, but I still kind of liked it. Unlike a lot of other books I’ve randomly read for The Box, Rodi did a great job of giving me just enough information to understand what’s going on in a broad sense of this series, but not necessarily laying down every aspect of who these characters are and what they’re doing. The Crossovers is basically a superhero family in the vein of the Fantastic Four or the First Family in Astro City (I think).

The reason I don’t know what’s going on is because there is just so much going on in this series. There’s lots and lots of characters, many different locations and all kinds of things going on I’m not caught up on, but I kind of felt like finding out, which is a mark in the plus column for sure.

The art is also pretty interesting, kind of a mix between Mike Wieringo’s and Amanda Palmer’s style with bold figures with great expressions, but still on the cartoony side of the spectrum.

At the end of the day, I dug this issue, but did a little research and saw that it only lasted 9 issues. Are there any Crossgen fans out there? Did this series end with an actual ending or because the company fell through? I’d be interested in keeping an eye out for those other issues, but only if it feels like a complete story.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Karate Kommandos

As a kid I loved Chuck Norris And The Karate Kommandos. Mind you this was back when Norris was actually cool and not just an internet badass. He was the main character of the cartoon and obviously awesome, but he also had a group of friends who also kicked all kinds of ass, plus the bad guy could fly around on blade shoes. How rad is that? I also dug the toys because they had those great kicking and punching action features and came with a bunch of weapons. I think I had the Norris in this commercial, but not anymore, though I still have the Reed Smith toy (not exactly the coolest hero name around, is it?). Anyway, I chose Karate Kommandos because, as you know, I’m super excited about The Expendables and it seems crazy that Norris isn’t in the movie. Or maybe he is and it’s a huge surprise. I’ll let you know after seeing it on Friday!

Can’t Keep A Good Chuck Norris Down

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Yesterday, as some of you know, I watched a movie in which the inimitable Chuck Norris beat up the devil. Later that night I got around to checking my Google Reader (something I need to do tonight actually) and saw this awesome piece by Dean over on Springfield Punx, a great blog where he posts renditions of pop culture figures in the Simpsons style. Click the link for a few versions in Walker Texas Ranger duds as well as a fantastic video of Conan’s WTR lever, which he used to pull every now and then to play a random clip from the show. You absolutely need to click through and check that out.

Halloween Scene: HellBound (1994)

I was flipping through the newly added action movies on Netbox today, saw this title and was instantly excited. Why you ask? It looks kind of like every other Norris box cover: him holding a weapon standing in front of something dangerous. What sets it apart? CHUCK NORRIS FIGHTS THE DEVIL!!! Sounds pretty sick right? Unfortunately, it’s not.

The movie plays like a combination of an extra long episode of Walker Texas Ranger and every other movie where a regular guy falls into something mystical while trying to solve a murder. The Walker Texas Ranger comparison doesn’t just come from the fact that both come from the mid 90s, but because the main female actress in HellBound is the same woman from WTR (Sheree J. Wilson). Also, Norris’s partner is a black guy. He’s not the more uptight black guy from WTR (Clarence Gilyard Jr.), but more of a fish-out-of water funny guy in the form of Calvin Levels.

Okay, so the plot is that Norris and Levels plays Chicago cops who are trying to solve a murder that involves an ancient artifact. Actually that’s after a big fight in the 1100s between some knights and the devil in the very beginning of the movie. This sends them to Israel where they eventually have a final showdown with the devil. Norris fights him twice, both are pretty cool. It’s the rest of the movie that’s a problem. Even at 95 minutes the movie feels like it drags because you’re always just waiting for Norris to kick someone else. Instead you get several scenes with a young pick pocket that Norris and his partner try to show the way of right. Oh, also, their names are Shatter and Jackson. That’s right, Norris’s character’s name is Sgt. Frank Shatter. Wow.

HellBound’s not really worth watching. All you really need to do is watch the end of the movie, which luckily someone posted on YouTube. So, just watch it here and save yourself some time.

Chuck Norris Double Feature: The Octagon (1980) & Code Of Silence (1985)

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Hope everyone had a great Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.

I’ve got to be honest, the last thing I saw Chuck Norris in was a series Karate Kommandoes clips I was watching on YouTube a few months ago. Before that it would be Dodge Ball (great cameo), then Walker Texas Ranger episodes and before that, Sidekicks. So, I don’t really have a lot of experience with his more action-oriented flicks. I’ve got to say, I’m none too impressed with my double feature of The Octagon and Code of Silence. So, here goes

Let me start by telling you all that it took me FOUR DAYS TO WATCH THIS MOVIE. Which is to say that it’s not the most thrilling of films. It’s also close to incoherent as you’re never really sure who Chuck’s character really is. He seems to be a law enforcement agent of some kind, but, as far as I can remember, it’s never directly stated what kind. From there we get all kinds of ninja attacks (did American audiences not know what ninjas were pre-1980?) that look close to slow motion and Chuck talking to himself in this weird, annoying echoy internal monologue.

This really is a lame movie. Please don’t watch it unless you’re in a room full of your friends with a few dozen beers each. In that case, it would be a grand viewing experience, otherwise, it might take you four days to watch it. That’s about 20 minutes a night I’ll never get back, sigh…

code of silence posterLuckily, Code of Silence was much better, though not really all that good in and of itself. It’s good in the sense that it’s a crazy, 80s action movie with a remote control tank of sorts as back up! The basic idea is that Chuck’s a good cop who doesn’t like how all the other cops are covering for this old cop who shot a kid in cold blood. His friend’s kid also gets kidnapped, so Chuck’s going after her, but he can’t get any help from his fellow officers. So, he’s got to go after the bad guys on his own (with the aforementioned tank-thing). There’s a pretty cool scene where Chuck holds his own in a bar full of attackers until a dude throws a pool ball at the back of his head. There’s not much past that as far as the martial arts go, but the last scene with Chuck and the tank going after the bad guys is classic 80s action (what more would you expect from the guy who directed Above the Law, Under Siege and The Fugitive). COS is way better than Octagon, though it’s nowhere near the martial arts extravaganza I was hoping for. Also, in the plus column is that Dennis Farina co-stars as a wounded cop (love that guy).

Well, there’s not much else to say about these movies. Neither is awesome, even by action movie standards. I was pretty shocked by how slow the fight scenes in Octagon felt. I mean, I didn’t expect him to be kneeing people in the face Tony Jaa-style, but even the penultimate fight between him and the masked ninja felt more like a fight from Double Dragon for the NES than one featuring Bruce Lee’s sparring partner. Well, at least I didn’t buy these movies and I can always watch Chuch fight Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (it’s Way of the Dragon) yeah, that’s what I meant (then why did you say Enter the Dragon?).