Eric's Bad Movies: Firewalker (1986)

Surely the hand of fate has guided Chuck Norris throughout his career. When he agreed to star in the film Firewalker in the mid '80s, he couldn't have known that several years later he would star in a TV show called Firewalker, Texas Fire Ranger. It's a complete coincidence -- unless you believe that there are greater powers at work in the universe.

One of those greater powers is Chuck Norris himself, or at least that was the gist of the jokes that went around the Internet a few years ago. Despite the number of good films on his resume being dangerously close to zero -- actually, probably because of that -- Norris has a whole new generation of people enjoying his 1980s offerings ironically. But surely even the hardiest of self-aware hipsters can't find any pleasure in Firewalker, which purports to be an action-slash-comedy but which has neither action nor comedy. I am even skeptical of the slash.

Norris and Louis Gossett Jr. play Max and Leo, a pair of bickering treasure hunters who are always getting into Indiana Jones-style scrapes, except that they never find anything useful or make any money or get chased by Nazis or shack up with Calista Flockhart. (So their luck isn't all bad.) firewalkerMostly they just argue, Gossett grinning a lot and looking like one of the title characters in Gremlins, Norris delivering every line in the stone-faced, emotionless manner of a kickboxer who has for some reason become a film star. Norris and Gossett: the liveliest comic duo since Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand!

While commiserating in a seedy Arizona bar, Max and Leo are approached by Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson), a prim, upscale blonde who has a treasure map and wants to hire a couple of idiots to help her find the gold. In the usual manner of buddy films where one guy is white and one is black, the white one, Max, has the hots for Patricia, while the black one, Leo, is asexual. (As you know, this formula can only be reversed if the black character is the more famous actor. These laws are all written down in Hollywood somewhere.)

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Max and Leo accompany Patricia to an Indian reservation near the Mexican border, where they find a cave made of ancient papier-mache rocks. On one of the walls of this cave is a painting that Leo -- who I guess is a history professor of some kind? -- says was made in 1527, because I'm sure the ancient tribes always signed and dated their work. He also says it has origins in Aztec, Mayan, AND Spanish cultures, no doubt one of those celebrity collaborations that the entirely separate civilizations were always working on in the 1500s.

The gold is missing, but somehow the painting indicates that it can be found elsewhere, probably with a message like the one at the end of each level of Super Mario Bros. As a consolation prize, one artifact is present: a knife made of pure gold. A gold dagger, just like Kanye West sang about. A very elderly local Indian, Tall Eagle (Will Sampson), gives the treasure hunters the scoop: The dagger belonged to an ancient fellow named Firewalker. Tall Eagle explains, "He was called Firewalker because his soul could fly to the sun," which means he should have been called Sunflyer, not Firewalker. Kind of a stretch there, Tall Eagle. Anyway, Firewalker, the dagger, magic powers, secret treasure, yada yada.

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Somehow -- you'll see the word "somehow" a lot here, because nothing is ever really explained -- Max, Leo, and Patricia decide the missing gold must be in San Miguel, a fictional country located where Mexico used to be. San Miguel is chosen literally at random, when Max jabs a knife at a map of Central America. And then Patricia pronounces it "San Mig-well." The film has many lines that are supposed to be jokes, but that's not one of them. That's just how the actress says it. Her name is Melody Anderson. She previously appeared in Flash Gordon and would later star in a TV movie called Hitler's Daughter. That is just for your information.

So the trio heads to San Miguel, whereupon Max and Leo get into a fight with some locals in a bar, as required by Chuck Norris' contract. No one's very enthusiastic about the fight, though: lots of weak punches and some halfhearted falling down, like a nursing home's production of West Side Story. Meanwhile, word gets around that the gringos are looking for the Firewalker treasure, which is of particular interest to an evil man with an eye patch. Which eye the patch covers varies from scene to scene. This could be an act of parody, but it could also be ineptitude. Where is the line between a film that is trying to be bad and a film that is simply bad?

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Anyway, our heroes head to the village where the treasure is supposed to be, but since travel to the interior of the country isn't permitted for outsiders, they have to dress up like two priests and a nun. Lucky for them, the production and sale of religious disguises is San Miguel's chief industry. They find the village ransacked by soldiers and then get into a fight with the soldiers, who have guns but prefer to stand still and be kicked by Max. The bad guys eventually capture the trio and are about to execute them when suddenly our heroes are saved by ... Corky! A guy we've never seen before but who is Max and Leo's old friend and who is named Corky! He's played by John Rhys-Davies, from Raiders of the Lost Ark! And I guess he owns this village! Or something! It is not explained! He sure saves the hell out of their lives, though, and now the soldiers who were about to behead them adore them and make them guests of honor at a festival.

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Isn't this movie over yet? Bleh. After this pointless tangent the trio head to ANOTHER village, where there's a temple that supposedly will have the gold. You start to wonder why Patricia even wants the gold, considering that if she can afford this huge, ridiculous excursion she must be pretty rich already. Then they're camping by a river and they think Leo has been eaten by a crocodile. Just as well; he was a third wheel. I was impressed by the movie's willingness to murder a character who wasn't doing anything, then disappointed to find him still alive, held captive in the temple by Eye Patch Guy, who wants to trade Leo for the gold dagger, which will grant him access to the treasure, et cetera. There is a fight in which Eye Patch Guy takes a bullet to the chest and a knife to the back yet fails to be killed. What finally does the job? Why, a roundhouse kick from Sir Chuck Norris, that's what! Chuck's mightiness is diminished considerably by the womany sunglasses he wears in the final scene, though. It's a powerful reminder that no matter how cool you think you are, you are probably not very cool at all if you are in 1986, or if you are Chuck Norris.

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Eric's Bad Movies appears Thursdays at Film.com. You can visit Eric at his website, where disguises are not required.