Friday, August 10, 2018

Top 5 Chuck Norris Movies

Top 5 Chuck Norris Movies

 I was born in 1978, but my memory wasn't firing on all cylinders as a babe, so that pretty much makes me a child of the 80s.  As such, and given that I may be a bit of a martial arts fanatic, it should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of the one and only Chuck Norris.  With that in mind, I decided to resurrect my Top 5 theme that has produced so many enjoyable pieces over the years and rank my favorite films starring everyone's favorite asskicker who has yet to take his asskicking talents to another plane of existence.  First off, though, I should note that I am restricting this piece to films that Chuck received top billing in.  The best film he ever appeared in was obviously Return of the Dragon, and his showdown with Bruce Lee during that picture's climax is also his best throwdown--but it won't be featured here.  Sadly, his second best throwdown came in a picture where he did receive top billing, but The Octagon is kind of a mess and it didn't make my list either.  Regardless, that's enough about movies that didn't make the cut; let's start at the bottom and work our way to the top.

 #5) Firewalker (1986)

Okay, so admittedly Firewalker is a little hit and miss, but it makes up for what it lacks in special effects or polish in sheer entertainment.  Norris does a bit of a send-up of his typical super badass persona here, and while his Max Donigan is a solid fighter, he isn't much of a marksman and it is certainly safe to say that he's not the sharpest tool in the shed.  Chuck hams it up throughout this action adventure that frequently veers toward parody when it isn't paying homage to films like Raiders of the Lost Ark.  While it can't be said that Norris has a gift for comedy, it is fair to say that his charisma and a decent script generate several laughs.  Louis Gossett, Jr. was in his prime here, and it is entirely possible that he steals the show in his role as Leo Porter.  Porter is a little savvier, a much better shot, and he's not exactly a pushover when it comes to fisticuffs.  Norris and Gossett have solid chemistry and their bickering-laden friendship is one of Firewalker's biggest strengths.  Sonny Landham is also rather imposing as the heavy, and Melody Anderson does a fine job of offsetting all the macho antics on display with a little beauty and grace--and she might bring more to the proceedings in the way of comedy than any of her co-stars.  In the end, those looking for kung fu treachery may be a bit disappointed, but those who enjoy a goofy adventure yarn that goes for an equal measure of excitement and chuckles will have a lot of fun with this poor man's treasure hunt.  I also think that the finale is worthwhile and I have no qualms about starting this list off with a Norris picture many of his fans may not be nearly as enamored with.

Final Grade: B-
He's no Steve Martin, but Norris and the rest of the cast have a lot of fun with their roles in Firewalker.

#4) The Delta Force (1986)

Early on, in a move that distinguishes it from standard Chuck Norris action films, The Delta Force takes a serious approach to the carnage on display.  This is likely due to the parallels between the terrorist attack depicted in the movie and the actual hijacking of TWA Flight 847 a year prior to the film's release.  The restraint is perhaps most evident in Robert Forster's cold and calculating performance as the villainous Abdul, though it also presents itself when the standard disaster film trappings (to include the presence of one George Kennedy in the cast) are never allowed to become overly sensational or melodramatic.  Having said that, things change once Lee Marvin hits the scene, expertly playing a grizzled leader of men with a certain blonde-haired and battle-hardened human dynamo at his disposal.  That's when the The Delta Force becomes standard action fare with an emphasis on good old American heroism and big ass explosions.  The execution is top-notch; this is a slick production and Menahem Golan's direction is perfectly acceptable for a rousing shoot 'em up.  This would prove to be Lee Marvin's final performance, and it is fitting that he went out playing the sort of tough guy role that he was famous for.  Truthfully, the first half of this ode to beating up terrorists is riveting and tense while the second half is more of an idealized love letter to patriotic vengeance punctuated by a trademark Alan Silvestri score.  Still, The Delta Force showcases an action icon in his prime alongside a cinema great and hits all the notes that it sets out to hit.  The cast is loaded with familiar faces and while the picture would have benefited from a shorter run time, it's still a rip-roaring kick in the pants that showcases Chuck at his very best.  

Final Grade: B-
Yes, there is some restraint shown in portions of The Delta Force, but not in the "Chuck Norris driving a motorcycle outfitted with a rocket launcher" portion.

 #3) Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

You had me at "Chuck Norris gets captured in Vietnam and has to lead a daring escape from a brutal prison camp."  True story: if that premise holds any appeal for you, you're going to have a great time with the best* film in the Missing in Action series.  Colonel James Braddock is a trademark Norris role, and our man Chuck was clearly as adept at playing this kind of determined tough guy with an unbreakable spirit as he was at dishing out flying side kicks.  This sequel/prequel sets the stage for a gung-ho finale by putting our war-ravaged hero and his fellow survivors through pure hell for much of the picture.  The infamous rat scene (I'm not going to spoil this tasty bit for you if you haven't seen it) is not only one of this film's highlights, but also stands as the very epitome of a classic Chuck Norris moment.  Soon-Tek Oh is sheer perfection as the heartless Colonel Yin, and his vicious tyrant may be the most loathsome villain Chuck ever squared off against.  Several of Chuck's co-stars also shine in this one, with Steven Williams in particular giving the film some serious punch as Nester.  A despicable traitor for 99% of his screen time, Nester makes quite an emotional exit when he ultimately redeems himself by sacrificing his life for the men he turned on.  For a kickass action flick, there's actually a lot of emotion on display during the closing reel, and fans of this type of yarn are guaranteed to get fired up watching Braddock beat the shit out of Yin while dedicating his various kicks and punches to his fallen comrades.  While it owes far more to red-blooded 80s action cinema than anything resembling a realistic take on the P.O.W. experience, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is a riveting flick with Chuck anchoring a worthy cast and delivering the goods.     

Final Grade: B+

*To be fair, the first entry in this series is sub-par and the third one is nothing short of terrible. 

Chuck leads a band of weary survivors as they suffer greatly before mounting an escape and kicking some serious ass in Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

#2) Silent Rage (1982) 

What do you get when you blend a horror movie with a Chuck Norris action saga?  Well, Silent Rage is surely a mixed bag, but it must be said that it is a highly entertaining mixed bag.  As such, it does many things extremely well and it does many things just as poorly.  Thankfully, it starts and finishes with grand flourishes, and this makes the movie's shortcomings easier to digest.  In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that some of these shortcomings do venture into the realm of unintentional comedy; the romantic subplot is a genuine disaster, and the Stephen Furst stuff* is damn near unbearable.  However, the horror bits are both the backbone and the best parts of Silent Rage.  In addition to some quality suspense and a handful of nifty jolts, the slasher aspect of the picture yields several wicked action scenes pitting our man Chuck against a murderous madman who cannot be killed.  Of course, there's also a totally needless subplot pitting Chuck against a biker gang that leads to a big brawl but ultimately seems out of place.  Like I said earlier, it's a mixed bag.  After a rock solid opening sequence that both establishes the villain and the hero of the picture and seemingly removes the villain from the equation, the movie flounders until psycho killer John Kirby (played by Brian Libby) rises from the dead.  His resurrection comes as the result of a forbidden experiment gone awry and turns Kirby into an unstoppable madman whose wounds heal instantly.  This frightening killer with an insatiable bloodlust proceeds to wreak havoc and there's a significant portion of Silent Rage where Kirby stalks Ron Silver (in a rare sympathetic role) and his wife.  This section of the movie is incredibly intense and boasts the film's biggest scare.  There's also a bit of cat-and-mouse shortly thereafter in a hospital that is equally riveting, and the big finale is very satisfying.  The final shot is a standard genre trick, but it is executed to perfection and ends the film on a horrific note--and I'm cool with that.  If the movie were more focused on delivering on its premise and less interested in forcing romance and comedy into the mix, Silent Rage might have emerged as a minor classic.  As it is, it still stands as one of Chuck's very best, and I do rate this one as my favorite movie in his catalog given my horror jones and the strength of the parts of the movie that click.

Final Grade: B+

*As Charlie the dopey deputy, Stephen Furst bombs in a big way.  His efforts at providing comedic relief fall flat and the very presence of his character is easily the movie's biggest shortcoming.  I can't be the only one who shakes my head at the way Chuck Norris constantly assures this poor excuse for a human being that he has what it takes to be a good lawman.  Making matters worse, the end result of this exercise in poor judgment is a gruesome demise for Charlie that subsequently requires Chuck to tenderly cradle the big dumbass in his arms for a tearful goodbye.  If you can imagine that scene being anything less than an affront to acting, you have a fabulous imagination and you should definitely start your own blog. 

Chuck Norris may be the film's big selling point, but the tense and
frightening aspects of Silent Rage are the picture's biggest strengths.

 #1) Lone Wolf McQuade (1982)

Lone Wolf McQuade owes as much to spaghetti westerns as it does to karate movies, and with Chuck in the driver's seat this proves to be a match made in heaven.  The picture takes 80s action movies madness to such extremes that it is positively surreal at times, and nowhere is this more obvious than during the opening sequence.  Seriously, the approach Chuck takes to corralling a band of Mexican desperadoes in the opening reel is 100% style and 0% plausibility, but it works to perfection, setting the stage for an operatic battle between good and evil painted in vivid strokes.  Chuck was perfectly suited for the part of Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade, a determined lawman who approaches his job more like a man on a crusade than a policeman on a payroll.  The villain he must contend with is a bold kingpin with a gift for martial arts, and David Carridine was perfectly suited for this role.  McQuade is a man of grit and determination while Carradine's Rawley Wilkes is a sadistic vessel of pride and contempt.  Here is another match made in heaven, and every interaction between these two titans pops in a big way, leading up to a stellar showdown.  The score by Francesco De Masi is pure magic; while the on-screen action is already larger-than-life and bursting with color, the proceedings take on truly epic proportions when partnered with De Masi's spectacular themes.  Additionally, Lone Wolf McQuade contains the Chuck Norris scene to end all Chuck Norris scenes.  Picture this: McQuade, battered and unconscious, is tossed into his truck and the vehicle is buried beneath the desert sand.  McQuade awakens, pops the tab on a beer, takes a big chug before dousing himself with the rest, and then he lets loose with a defiant roar and drives that mother right out of the ground.  It's so damn silly and so very Chuck Norris that you can't help but love it.  Lone Wolf McQuade is a slick exercise in machismo and style that I would rank as both the best Chuck Norris film out there and one of the best 80s action movies of them all.

Final Grade: A-

Chuck Norris and David Carradine square off in a grand finale that is only one of the many epic moments in Lone Wolf McQuade.

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