Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What the Chuck?! Lone Wolf McQuade

Chuck Norris.  A real American hero.  While the 80's and 90's gave us the golden age of the "one-man" army a la Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme;  Bruce Lee and later Norris kick started a cottage industry of action films featuring fit, fierce and furious fighters who took on the world and triumphed with their indomitable mix of will and skill.  But Norris gets my vote for being the All American Man/Action Hero.  Born Carlos Ray in Oklahoma, "Chuck" grew up in California and joined the Air Force where he served in South Korea.  There, he took up Tang Soo Do and soon would be practicing martial arts religiously.  Upon returning from service, Norris became an undefeated kickboxing champion while opening a chain of karate schools that would eventually be mismanaged.  Facing financial straits and having already appeared in films in bit parts and opposite friend Bruce Lee in 1972's Way of the Dragon; Norris took the advice of friend, student and acting superstar Steve McQueen and enrolled in acting classes.  But McQueen's biggest suggestion to Norris was to let others do the talking and him do the doing.  For Chuck Norris, doing meant kicking ass.

His first headlining film, 1977's Breaker! Breaker! was a low budget flick that combined karate with truckers and CB radios.  The film was a hit and Norris wrote his next vehicle, Good Guys Wear Black which he then shopped to producers.  It was another box office hit and by the early 1980's, Norris was established as a formidable on screen karate man who didn't take revenge but got even instead, with extreme karate prejudice.  He hit a mainstream breakthrough with 1983's Lone Wolf McQuade, the first in our study of What the Chuck?!  An Appreciation of the Real American Action Hero.  Set near the Mexican border, Lone Wolf McQuade introduces us to badass, non-team playing Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade as he single-handedly takes on a gang of mean motor scooters.  He uses guns of all sizes as well as his fists and feet when lethal force isn't necessary.  He drinks Pearl beer and only Pearl beer, sports a sweet beard, a huge rodeo style belt buckle, has a pet wolf and drives a super charged Dodge truck.  While the new, PR seeking, wuss-ified Rangers respect McQuade's record, they don't appreciate his tactics and want him to cool it with the violent heroics.

The only problem is, a ruthless arms dealer and mean sum'bitch by the name of Rawley Wilkes shows up (a post Kung-Fu David Carradine) and messes with McQuade's daughter and her fiance after an interrupted hijacking of military weapons.  The fiance is gunned down, the daughter's car pushed into a ravine and McQuade's mentor is killed.  Now, pissed off and out for blood, McQuade teams up with a fresh faced State Trooper and an in the know federal agent to deliver some hard justice, Texas-Mexico style.  One blood wet burrito, coming up!  Storming Wilkes' hacienda using machine guns, six-shooters and a bulldozer among other things, hero and villain drop their guns and go head to head for a final showdown.  Clad in a white and argyle sweater with black slacks, Wilkes uses some fancy, swaying, kung-fu style hand motions while McQuade's military vest with no shirt underneath to reveal a hairy chest goes for a simpler, put up your dukes, karate style.  Carradine moves fluidly and throws lots of jump kicks, seemingly getting the better of Chuck until McQuade's daughter tries to intervene and gets back hand punched, in slow motion, which calls down the Texas Thunder and we get Norris trademarks like the jump flying sidekick, front leg hook kick and spinning back kick.  McQuade then dodges bullets from a Mac-10 uzi and says bye bye to Wilkes by way of a grenade blowing up the shit out of an ammunition filled shack.

Literally a modern day Spaghetti Western, Lone Wolf McQuade unfolds in long shots, close ups and dramatic music.  Directed by Steve Carver with a script from B.J. Nelson and H. Kaye Dyal, Lone Wolf McQuade manages to mix the modern western motif with some light hearted comedy and karate action.  Norris' character is a little more well rounded here than his previous, straight karate movies and the bits about his preference for beer, talking trash to just about everyone around him and being a softie in regards to his daughter are nice touches.  As is the scene where he's shot and buried in his truck only to wake up, pour a beer on his head, take a sip, spit it out then turbo boost out with his super charged engine.

Produced for an estimated $5 million bucks, Lone Wolf McQuade would gross 3 times as much and be given a 3.5 star review by a younger Roger Ebert.  The film and role would be one of Norris' most iconic and given the team up with familiar to martial arts audiences face David Carradine, it's easy to see why.  His hit show Walker, Texas Ranger would have been called McQuade, Texas Ranger if anyone had asked MGM for the rights.  When Norris popped up in 2012's The Expendables 2 for his meta soaked cameo, he's dubbed "The Lone Wolf".

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