Release Date: November 21st, 1986 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: J. Lee Thompson Actors: Chuck Norris, Louis Gossett Jr., Melody Anderson, Will Sampson, Sonny Landham, John Rhys-Davies, Ian Abercrombie
jeep is chased by dune buggies through treacherous deserts – it’s adventurer Max Donigan (Chuck Norris) and partner Leo Porter (Louis Gossett Jr.), pursued by the General’s (Richard Lee-Sung) armed bandits. Captured and staked out in the blistering sun with a precious bottle of Perrier just a few feet out of reach, Max and Leo are nevertheless undeterred from wisecracking and completely ignoring the gravity of their situation. Moments later, they’re unexplainably out of harm’s way and drinking a beer in Arizona. At the bar, they’re propositioned by Los Angeles legal secretary Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson, with routinely perfect makeup even after surviving humid jungle treks) to help her sneak onto an Indian reservation for an abundance of stashed gold. She possesses a treasure map, but warns that a deadly man, who appears to be a red cyclops with long black hair, will pursue them.
The trio hikes up into the mountains and enters a cave filled with human remains. Artifacts suggest that ancient Mayans, Aztecs, and Spanish conquistadors all inexplicably inhabited the hollows. As they congratulate themselves on the discovery of a bejeweled knife, Indian warriors attack them. But, of course, they escape unscathed. They proceed to visit Tall Eagle (Will Sampson), a man knowledgeable in Apache and Aztec history, to aid them in their quest (for a 20% cut). He regales them with tales of the Firewalker, a legendary man whose soul could fly to the sun to gather great power. He also warns of El Coyote (Sonny Landham) and his minions (namely Indian assassin Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez), and of evil spirits that will visit Patricia, seeking to either confuse or guide her in the recovery of the vast riches.
Supernatural spellcasting, human sacrifice, harmful potions, a bar fight (a welcome but lone karate scene, in which essentially every single table and chair is demolished), machinegun-toting guerillas, and murderous manslayers don’t hold up to Norris’ goofing around. Defying death and brushing off danger, he favors witty retorts and humorous observations to physical encounters. As he pretends to be a comedian, foregoing martial arts for guns, knives, romantic flirtations, and verbal sarcasm, “Firewalker” begins to lose its appeal as a Chuck Norris action vehicle. It doesn’t help that he has to play off of Gossett Jr., trying desperately to resemble the mismatched buddy cop teams of the era, as seen in films like “Freebie and the Bean,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “48 Hrs.”
Max thrives on the searching and hunting more than the finding (because he’s attracted to the dangerousness), while playful music and globe-hopping adventure contrasts with potential machete executions and the insincere insinuation of rape by rural soldiers. The sets and character designs clearly borrow from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” with rebel leader Corky, played by the familiar John Rhys-Davies, an obvious addition to the formula, but “Firewalker” doesn’t commit in any one direction (even a stolen one) for a focused storyline. The humor isn’t silly enough to be a straight comedy and the adventure isn’t thrilling or dramatic enough to be an action epic.
A girl fight on top of an unconscious Norris is a fun touch, but wasted wordiness, a stupidly cackling villain, and occult ceremonial mumbo-jumbo (which conveniently delays easy kills) bogs down the pacing and overall enjoyment of this derivative, forgettable feature. It’s particularly funny that director J. Lee Thompson helmed “King Solomon’s Mines” the year before, itself a spin on Indiana Jones despite the source material by H. Rider Haggard. And yet Thompson also directed significant action classics dating back to the early ‘60s, including “The Guns of Navarone,” “Taras Bulba,” and “Kings of the Sun.”
– Mike Massie