Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Good Guys Wear Black (1978)

          Considering that Chuck Norris achieved fame as a karate champion and as one of Bruce Lee’s most formidable onscreen sparring partners, it’s surprising that his first significant starring role was not in a martial-arts flick. Instead, Good Guys Wear Black is a quintessentially ’70s conspiracy picture, complete with nefarious politicians ordering hits on the commandos who participated in a Vietnam-era covert op. Norris gets to unleash his signature roundhouse kicks in a few combat scenes, but for the most part he treks from one location to the next, accompanied by an alluring mystery lady (Anne Archer), as he investigates the identities of the Washington, D.C., power players who targeted him for elimination. Yet even though Good Guys Wear Black has a bit more ambition than the usual grindhouse thriller, it’s not particularly good.
          The photography and production values look cheap, especially during the prologue of a nighttime raid in Vietnam, the star wattage is low (Gilligan’s Island costar Jim Backus gets special billing for a pointless cameo as a doorman), and Norris is wooden. In fact, he’s the virtual poster child for athletes trying to become movie stars; he cuts a solid figure but can’t deliver dialogue smoothly, so director Ted Post wisely restricts Norris to a flat monotone in most scenes. Furthermore, the less said about Norris’ attempts to express emotion, the better. Archer, who looks fantastic, fares somewhat better but not by much, and she and Norris benefit from the grown-up dialogue that was presumably contributed by co-screenwriter Mark Medoff (the playwright of Children of a Lesser God). James Franciscus has fun chewing on his role as a Machiavellian politician angling for a job as Secretary of State, although his big speech at the end is filled with movie-villain clichés.
          As for the action, it’s solid but sporadic—Norris’ extended brawl with an assassin at an airport is the only scene that delivers the sort of elaborate, high-kicking whammies the leading man’s fans might expect. Ultimately, Good Guys Wear Black is not exciting enough to work as an action picture, and not smart enough to work as a thriller—but it’s still is a watchable misfire, because the filmmakers deserve some small credit for trying to deliver dramatic heft within the action genre’s limited parameters.

Good Guys Wear Black: FUNKY

1 comment:

greg6363 said...

In order for director Ted Post to make "Go Tell the Spartans", he had to direct this movie first. Unfortunately, when it came time to shoot "Spartans", the producers welshed on the budget which caused the production to run out of money before completion. As a result, Burt Lancaster wrote a check to cover the gap.