Thursday, September 3, 2015

Firewalker (1986)

Bad-ass idiot Max Donigan (Chuck Norris) and his also pretty stupid but not quite as bad-ass buddy Leo Porter (Louis Gossett Jr.), trot the globe as graverobbers (not that the film would ever use the term) and adventurers, the kind of guys nobody informed that the whole Indiana Jones thing happened decades before (and that guy at least worked for a museum when robbing non-white cultures dry), yet who (sort of) get by being pretty (kind of) decent guys.

Things become really exciting for the two when one Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson) hires them to help her find an Aztec/Mayan/Spanish treasure she isn’t outright telling them she’s seen in a vision. Of course, they aren’t the only ones looking – evil shaman El Coyote (Sonny Landham) has put his single eye on the treasure too, so our heroes will have to fight low level magic, random Native Americans, Central American military and their own stupidity on a globe trotting adventure before they just might end up at the treasure of their dreams. On the way, John Rhys-Davies pops in for a few scenes, there’s the obligatory romance between Norris and Anderson, and many a corny joke is made.

One of the traditional rules of my people is “Beware of Chuck Norris trying to be funny”, and I have found that in general, it makes one’s life happier and longer to keep to it. Yet there are exceptions to every rule, and I’d actually call J. Lee Thompson’s mid-80s adventure comedy (of course produced for Cannon) one.

Now, this is not a film that subverts its genre via humour all that deeply - in fact, its treatment of everyone non-white – well, actually everyone non-Norris is as problematic as anything you’ll find in the 80s adventure movie trend though certainly presented without any actual rancour – yet it still manages to come over as so friendly in its ways, and so clearly working for the entertainment of its audience without having a single original (or good idea) it’s difficult for me to avoid simply liking it.

It does help its case that the film’s jokes may not be clever but still had me snorting a bit from time to time, the characters aren’t deep but also not without interest, and the plot merrily jumps from one cheap yet nice old-fashioned adventure set-piece to the next without shame and without ever threatening to become boring. Veteran director J. Lee Thompson doesn’t generally doesn’t get much auteur credit, but he was actually involved in quite a few interesting films, and was never less than a really dependable hired hand that could take your silly, vaguely competent script and turn it into a silly, competent, and usually entertaining film. Which is exactly what he does here, with his usual eye for pacing and a certain dry wit that keeps the film’s humour from becoming annoying instead of funny.

But what about Chuck Norris, butt of many of my jokes? Well, in the company of a charming pro like Louis Gossett, and a rather more competent and charming than I had expected actress like Melody Anderson (whose character also turns out to be rather more spunky than I had feared, a real surprise in this conservative environment), he’s actually giving an okay performance and even seems – which really is a first when it comes to me and Norris – somewhat likeable and funny enough for the film’s goals.

So, Firewalker actually turns out to be a really fun adventure comedy, and exceeds all my expectations mightily by being quite enjoyable.

No comments: