Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What the Chuck?! Hero and the Terror

Did you miss it? I sure did. Tuesday, March 10th was the 75th birthday of one Carlos Ray aka Chuck Norris! The Air Force veteran turned martial arts expert and champion turned movie and TV star turned internet sensation spends his days living in rural Texas, working out on his Total Gym and speaking at conservative events. We know and love him for his awesome 70's and 80's action flicks so let's dive into 1988's Hero and the Terror. This puts us on the tail end of his go-go years with Cannon Films following hits like Missing In Action, Invasion U.S.A. and The Delta Force.

Hero is a weird one, more of a thriller than an action flick as we meet Danny O'Brien (Norris) as he's tracked down the man-brute-child Simon Moon aka The Terror (Jack O'Halloran) and fighting for his life under a pier. Moon nearly chokes and drowns O'Brien to death but trips and dazes himself, which makes arriving back up think The Chuck managed to put the big man down. Thus becoming a hero and a trauma survivor at the same time. Cut to three years later, O'Brien is slowly getting his confidence back and moving in with his pregnant lady Kay (Brynn Thayer). There's an awesomely ludicrous workout scene where Chuck is bench pressing while having flashbacks of Moon's hands wrapped around his throat, intense! American Ninja's Steve James shows up as one of his cop buddies and with another friend scream at O'Brien to complete his reps and joke he's prepping for the Olympics. I should mention that Norris is really pumped up in this one with a smooth hairless chest and a 80's style spaghetti strapped tank top. Competing with Stallone and Arnold perhaps? He rocks sweet sweaters and blazers while tooling around in his Corvette.

Thought dead for the last three years, Moon returns, killing women with his bare hands. His once abandoned lair has been remodeled and scheduled to open as The Wiltern Theatre. Hiding in unmapped cubbies, Moon eludes O'Brien and the police until they figure out there's more to the joint than thought. Alone, O'Brien finds the secret compartment Moon has been bringing his victims back to and faces off against The Terror one last time. Like I said, this was kind of a weird one but very watchable, Chuck doesn't have a ton of fight scenes, just one against some thugs on a bust and the final confrontation with Moon. His usual odd charm and humor is put on display in his scenes with Kay and one where he burns toast, etc. It was nice to see Steve James pop up for a few scenes even if he spoke with a kind of strange nasally, hero voice in this. There's one scene where James is on a stakeout in the theater and decides to get a work out in by running laps listening to Mozart!

After making his name in martial arts and action fare to big box office but few critical accolades, Norris hit both with 1985's Code of Silence. Follow ups Invasion U.S.A., The Delta Force, Firewalker and Missing in Action III would see diminishing returns and be viewed as less challenging and more exploitative fare. Hero and the Terror, based on the novel by Michael Blodgett, adapted by Dennis Shryack and directed by William Tannen was an attempt to broaden Norris' range. His character isn't the silent badass, he's got fears and even sees a therapist. Throw in the pregnant ladyfriend and some delivery room humor and you've got yourself a character similar to but also very departed from Lone Wolf McQuade, Invasion U.S.A. and The Delta Force where it was more about revenge or taking down scumbags cold, hard and fast. After so many years of that, it was time to be strong yet vulnerable. While the flick is easily a Saturday afternoon repeater, it did little to broaden Norris' fanbase. Opening on August 26th, 1988, Hero and the Terror grossed an anemic $1.8 million for the weekend coming in 12th place behind long released fare like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Young Guns and Coming to America on it's way to a $5.3 million total.

Hero and the Terror's weak performance was Norris' worst showing in years. A proposed team up with Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Cowboy and The Cossack was planned but never materialized. A Delta Force sequel would do little to turn the tide and 1991's The Hitman would fare even worse. Norris himself deemed the picture OK and not one of his favorites. Director William Tannen would reteam with Norris nearly 20 years later on entertaining DTV flick The Cutter. Novelist Michael Blodgett would have more success on the cop-canine comedy Turner & Hooch the next year before passing away in 2007. Screenwriter Dennis Shryack had previously written Clint Eastwood vehicles The Gauntlet and Pale Rider as well as Norris' Code of Silence (originally meant for Clint) and would go on to co-write Turner & Hooch and the Peter Weller actioner Fifty/Fifty.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Norris, keep pumping!

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