Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Force of One (1979)

Former karate champ Chuck Norris continued his ascendance to B-movie stardom with this lifeless martial-arts saga, which tries to compensate for its myriad shortcomings by showcasing long scenes of Norris in action. Karate aficionados may find this picture more satisfying than the actor’s previous flick, Good Guys Wear Black (1978), but, as always, catering to a niche audience is the easiest way to alienate everyone else. Accordingly, viewers hoping for things like believable acting, intriguing drama, and passable writing should direct their attention elsewhere. Model-turned-actress Jennifer O’Neill stars as Mandy Rust, the lone female on a San Diego police unit tasked with investigating narcotics activity in the city. When two cops from the unit are murdered via karate, Mandy persuades her boss (Clu Gulager) that everyone on the unit needs martial-arts training. Then she recruits title contender Matt Logan (Norris), who runs a local dojo, for the job. Predictably, Matt gets drawn into the investigation, suffers a horrific personal loss that makes him vengeful, and helps the police take down the drug kingpin who ordered the hits on the cops. There’s also a twist involving a corrupt detective, a quasi-romance between Mandy and Matt, and a touchy-feely subplot concerning Matt’s guardianship of a plucky teenager. It’s all very rote, with nary an original idea in evidence, and the storytelling is turgid in the extreme. Scenes plod along aimlessly, and the only thing flatter than the writing is the acting. Norris is awful, since he had not yet learned to emulate Clint Eastwood’s less-is-more approach, so his line deliveries sound awkward and his “emoting” is pathetic. O’Neill is almost as bad, a delicate beauty preening her way through the absurd role of a tough street cop. Gulager borders on camp with his twitchy take on the clich├ęd role of a put-upon top cop, and Ron O’Neal (of Superfly fame), who plays one of the officers on the drug unit, waffles between distracted indifference and silly swagger. In short, if you want to see an in-his-prime Norris deliver lightning-fast punches and walloping roundhouse kicks, A Force of One will satisfy for needs. Beyond that? Not so much.

A Force of One: LAME

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