With Firewalker this’ll be my first review of a Chuck Norris movie and the second flick of his I own. That other one being Forced Vengeance (1982). Before Norris became a born-again Christian and got all tea partied up he was a big influence on me in my teens and was crucial in my dabbling in karate. Yeah, this is another big time memory movie, so I suggest if you want to avoid all the nostalgia I’m about to sidekick into your face just scroll all the way down to where I talk about the movie and the disc’s specs. The reminiscing on this one might be vast and in depth, but I won’t know for sure until I start recounting the memories, so let’s start recounting.
It was summer of 1984, the summer between my transitioning from one high school to another. I started out thinking I wanted to attend a vocational school but carpentry just wasn’t my bag, it also turned out to be the single worst year (freshman year) I have ever had in any school setting and this included all 8 years of grade school, so I made a quick getaway to a regular high school a mile or so down the road, but during that in-between summer I was left for the first time without any friends to hang with.
We had cable and among the movies that suddenly captivated me were three, particular Norris flicks they ran and re-ran that whole season: The Octagon (1980), An Eye For An Eye (1981) and Forced Vengeance (1982). I think it was The Octagon I saw first and when I saw this Chuck Norris dude throwing these kicks that was all it took. I remember being so enthralled by his kicking ability I attempted to emulate it after the movie was over. For some reason I had to face this book huge bookshelf we had in the living room. I don’t know why. I remember thinking I need to something to aim at or focus on while I’m trying this and did some rudimentary kicking. With each movie I saw I kept getting inspired. I would even go out to the woods and practice, kick some branches down. I did this all summer long.
When I entered sophomore year I met Gerry Lee, he was a freshman, and we instantly became friends. The first time we hung we were in the woods and I threw this spinning heel kick. I remember his astonished reaction. I think it was that moment he got fixated on karate too. During those three years of high school we were friends the VCR became essential to us. Once I got one, I would record any Norris flick cable aired and re-play his fight scenes in slow motion so we could see exactly how he was doing his kicks. Norris was at his peak in the 80s and Gerry and I saw every, and I mean, every, flick he made during that time.
There was an area up in the woods behind the house we dubbed the ‘kicking area.’ It was this little alcove that bordered the woods and this field. There was this big rock in it, and we would drag these big fallen logs into it and set them up vertically against the rock. We would then practice our various kicks. Generally leaping side kicks or leaping off the rock sidekicks. I think the object was to see if would knock these rotted logs in half. Sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t.
Every summer we would scour the woods for ripe branches and logs to victimize. I even remember at one point we had kicked down so many of them we had trouble finding an area that still had head level or lower branches to practice on.
Eventually we finally ended up taking karate classes, the first time we dabbled in formally getting ourselves educated. It was at a local church too, twice a week, I think, and the style was Uchi Ryu. Gerry’s stepfather had taken this style when he was in the army. This is the first time we wore karate uniforms too. The style didn’t particularly thrill me. I was looking for something that would hone my kicks. At some point we lost interest in this class and found a different one at the local Y. This style was more to my liking. I still remember the teacher’s name too—Mr. Borden.
The problem was we goofed around a lot, in both this class and the one at the church, Gerry was a bit more disciplined than I was though for he stuck with this one right up to when you get tested and given your first belt. I believe he succeeded in getting his green belt.
Well that reminiscing didn’t take as many pages as I thought it would, now onto the movie itself. If you line up all of Norris’ flicks in a row and play which one of these is not like the others you would not be entirely wrong if you picked this one. And that’s including his Silent Rage (1982), Hero And The Terror (1988) and Hellbound (1994) where Norris skirts the edges of the horror genre in Rage and Terror, but delves headlong into it with the latter. As far as I can tell Firewalker would mark the only time he tried his hand at an adventure comedy, certainly comedy. I think I was disappointed when I realized he was doing a much more laid back hero. I’ll be honest he doesn’t pull it off. Comedy just isn’t his strong suite.
It’s unfortunate I have no memory of when Gerry and I saw it, nor any memory of when I recorded it on cable a year later either. The only memory I have is seeing an interview with Norris on Entertainment Tonight and he was asked what he would he like for Christmas (the movie was released in November). He replied for Firewalker to be a big hit. I scoffed when I heard him say that, because this was after me and Gerry had seen it and I knew it would never be a big hit. I also remember hearing months later it was the biggest flop of the holiday season.
Has the movie aged well between those high school years and now, well, I’ll know tonight when I watch it. When it did get announced for a blu-ray release I did kind of get eager to revisit it, mostly because of the memories attached to it, but, I mean, this review was going to happen regardless if I loathed it or loved it. The nostalgia is far too strong with this one and it was only a matter of time before one of his flicks reached a distributor I can get review copies from.
This part of the review onward is now being written a day later and I have to admit I kind of like the movie more now. Keep in mind I have not seen this flick at all in the interim, so it could be a simple case of absence making the heart grow fonder, and the fact I’m no longer obsessed with his movies. Though I still maintain Norris is horrible at comedy.
Max Donigan (Norris) and Leo Porter (Louis Gossett jr.) are fortune hunters who fate pairs up with Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson); she finds them in one of their watering holes and needs someone to hunt down this treasure she has a map too. This map takes them all the way to a temple in Central America where they actually end up finding an assload of gold. Their enemies are many but the main one is El Coyote (Sonny Landham). Max is no good at using guns but is damn good at killing with knives and kicking the shit out of people with his hands and feet.
John Rhys-Davies (Raiders Of The Lost Ark) has a cameo as a Southern accented ex-military guy who rules a small portion of the Jungle and Will Sampson (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) makes a breif appearance playing an Indian with crucial information about the Firewalker myth.
As you can tell the plot is nothing new, or extraordinary.
Old habits die-hard though, Norris has roughly four scenes where he displays his martial arts and just like me and Gerry did back in the day after we recorded one of his movies I slow-mo’d all the scenes where he was throwing his kicks.
MGM originally released Firewalker back in 2005, now on April 21st Olive Films re-releases it on DVD and also releases it for the first time on blu-ray.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—English Dolby Digital Stereo—No subtitles.
I don’t own the previous DVD so I can’t compare it, but this transfer wasn’t bad. Audio was good.
There are no extras.
(Note: There’s a typo on the back of the case mislabeling the year of release as 2000. I also assume it’s on the back of the DVD too).
For me the Norris flicks that still hold up are The Octagon (1980), An Eye For An Eye (1981), Silent Rage (1982), Forced Vengeance (1982), Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), possibly Code Of Silence (1985) and now Firewalker (1986).
Ah, good times. Good times indeed.