04 February 2013


United States – 1986
Director – J. Lee Thompson
Video Treasures/Media Home Entertainment, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 46 minutes

If ever there was a cheap - and I do mean cheap - knockoff of the Indiana Jones franchise – and I assure you, there weren't ANY, not one - this would probably be, if not the best cheap knockoff, then maybe the worst good one. If there were such a thing as a Heroic Pantheon of Legendary Norris Films - and there isn't - Firewalker might just be one of the best. In fact, even as I shook my head at the simple, crude script, I was laughing right along with it, an intoxicated dopey grin spread over my face. The thing is, this movie really took me by surprise. That devious right-wing ginger ideologue pulled out a good performance on me. It's almost as if this is actually the role that he should have played all along, his perfect match.

I might also say the same of his buddy Louis Gossett Jr., who compliments Norris' reckless charming white-guy lead with a stellar performance as a skeptical, fast-talking black-dude accomplice. Once again, a Norris film that isn’t challenging any stereotypes, but it ‘works better’ (or is less offensive) than many iterations and is far less grating.

Together our color-coded-combo consistently screw up and botch their various treasure seeking adventures: Max (Norris) dutifully getting them deep in the shit, then barely pulling them out in the nick of time, making it seem completely accidental, while Leo (Gossett) curses and berates him with practiced consistency. As if on cue, (as if) the beautiful blonde Patricia shows up with vague clues promising a plethora of potential wealth at great risk of life. Consulting Tall Eagle, a cynical but campy Native American stereotype, they learn the legend of the Firewalker, for whatever it's worth and are off to Central America followed by an evil Apache shaman (Sonny Landham.)

Unsurprisingly, Central America is full of overeager loudmouthed revolutionaries with big bottles of tequila and a love for blonde gringo women. John Rhys-Davies pops in for a quick (Norris-requisite) 'Nam reminisce, and an almost uncomfortable philosophical discussion. Don’t get too carried away now, Firewalker gingerly walks the triple line between campy, dramatic, and crappy, without totally botching any of them, but narrative depth is not on the menu. The essential Norris staples are still there, but the big fella actually manages to squeeze out a little human emotion and warmth this time out.  But that might just be the secret of the firewater, er…Firewalker.

Still image credits from top to bottom are:

I borrowed this UK VHS sleeve from Cannon Rank

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