A bad movie that occasionally manages to hold the viewer’s attention through a combination of familiar faces and spectacle, Firepower tells a convoluted story about mercenaries trying to kidnap a reclusive billionaire whom the U.S. government hopes to prosecute for criminal acts. Helmed by British action specialist Michael Winner, best known for Death Wish (1974), the picture showcases a truly odd collection of actors: James Coburn, Sophia Loren, and O.J. Simpson are the big names, while the supporting cast includes Billy Barty, Anthony Franciosa, Vincent Gardenia, Victor Mature, Jake LaMotta (!), and Eli Wallach.
The plot is as overstuffed as the cast. In the opening sequence, Adele (Sophia Loren) watches in horror as her husband, a pharmaceutical researcher, dies in a lab explosion. Convinced her husband was murdered by operatives of a mysterious industrialist named Karl Stegner, who owns a drug company that’s under government investigation, Adele provides incriminating evidence to federal agent Frank Hull (Gardenia). Frank wants to arrest Stegner, but Stegner lives on a remote estate in the Caribbean, protected by anti-extradition laws. And that’s when things get really confusing.
Frank seeks help from mobster Sal Hyman (Wallach), who offers to kidnap Stegner in exchange for a blanket pardon. Sal then calls in a favor from retired assassin Jerry Fanon (Coburn), who agrees to do the Stegner job for $1 million. Yet Jerry’s got a secret of his own. Jerry enlists his twin brother, Eddie, to . . . seriously, it’s not even worth explaining. Firepower is bewildering from a narrative perspective, but one gets the sense Winner realized he was building a giant heap of nothing, because he cuts the movie at an absurdly fast pace, rushing from chose scenes to double-crosses to explosions to gunfights to nighttime invasions. At any given moment, lots of colorful stuff is happening, even if it’s virtually impossible to know who’s doing what to whom, or why.
Coburn somehow manages to emerge unscathed, his coolness seeing him through the movie’s muddiest sections, though others don’t fare as well. Loren seems perplexed by her constantly changing characterization, so she spends most of her time posing for Winner’s myriad ogling shots of her cleavage. Simpson delivers his usual perfunctory work, while stone-cold pros ranging from Gardenia to Wallach try to ensure that individual scenes make as much sense as possible. For all his shortcomings on this project as a storyteller, Winner compensates somewhat by shooting violence well, so it’s possible to absorb the most vivacious scenes of Firepower as straight shots of adrenalized nonsense.