Firewalker (1986) – A Review
Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett Jr. are a pair of fortune hunters hired by Melody Anderson to help find some valuable Aztec treasure. The three venture out into an adventure facing down dangers, meeting with John Rys-Davis, having some laughs and Norris performing some high kicks.
If it sounds like it would be fun, it probably could have been – but it’s not. Firewalker ends up being extremely dull and amazingly missing the mark on every target it tries to hit.
How ironic is it that Norris intentionally trying to be more of a comedic action hero than he had ever been before, turns out to be less funny as when he was doing his normal monosyballic ultra-serious, screen presence he was best known for. Unloading ridiculous amounts of ammunition into bad guys with a blank stare and saying a stiff one-liner afterwards, can be enjoyable. Him trading quips with Gossett, not so much.
He should have stuck with what was working for him.
It was no secret Firewalker was designed as a Raiders of the Lost Ark/Romancing the Stone-type of adventure yarn and a role that would allow Norris to loosen up a bit and get away from the straight-laced action parts that he was best known for.
The movie opens with us being dropped in the ‘middle of an adventure’ scene with Norris and Gossett being chased by a bunch of bad guys in the desert. They’re trading jokes, we see Norris is trying to be much more lighthearted, the stakes and violence aren’t going to be as extreme as what we’ve seen in his other movies. It’s not looking too bad.
Then things starts to peter out very quickly. When Anderson arrives to hire the guys to find some gold is when the movie should kick into high gear. The adrenaline of the short high speed jeep chase in the desert in the beginning dissipates and nothing comes close to that tease of adventurous thrills for the remainder of the movie. It ends up sputtering along for the rest of the time.
There’s some mystical nonsense with a dagger, the arrival of natives trying to kill the three, Sonny Landham as a bizarre villain, and a whole lot of gobbly gook that complicates the story so much I was never sure what was happening. Just keep it simple, let them follow a map to a temple.
Norris and Gossett don’t make a great buddy team. It’s clear they’re trying to force the chemistry between each other. While Norris might be an expert at delivering high kicks, acting relaxed and spouting out jokes is not his strong suit. Gossett tries to play along, but doesn’t have much enthusiasm or energy. Based on seeing him in this I would never believe he was an Oscar winner only four years earlier.
Anderson and Norris engage in some flirty banter, but that goes nowhere. The scenarios they get embroiled in are unexciting and this being a Cannon production, most of it looks cheap.
The action is average at best – and I’m being kind. The ONLY highpoint is Norris beating a bar-full of brutes in an exaggerated way. In a typical Norris movie this would just be a routine fight scene. In Firewalker it’s the sole standout action piece.
It’s a scene that doesn’t really make much sense when I thought about it, why are all these guys getting involved into this fray, they don’t have any reason to.
Despite the confusing nature of why the fight happens, it’s the closest bit of fun the movie provides and the most satisfying tiny bit of Norris poking some fun at his macho action persona, that I think was the intention of him doing this movie. But the movie never delivers on that wink-wink premise and never gets to be full blown silly fun. Aside from that bar fight scene, I don’t remember any other action bits.
Remember in Romancing the Stone when they drive into a raging river, go down some rapids and have to jump out as they go over a waterfall? Cool scene right? In Firewalker they do the bargain basement ripoff of that scene. Norris and Anderson drive into a pond, the car slowly sinks and they have to get out and swim away. YAWN!
That’s how Firewalker pulls off emulating the kind of adventure movie it wants to be. It’s pretty pitiful.
When the three board a train dressed as priests and a nun I would have thought this was a setup to some exciting stuff to come. It’s a pretty nice train – probably the most expensive thing in the movie – maybe they’re going to use it in some thrilling ways and make it a set piece to some action. Them climbing on the roof, running through the train cars from bad guys or something – but nothing happens with it.
That really felt like a big missed opportunity. Zero action on the train, only comedic bits of Norris and Gossett having to pretend they’re real priests blessing people. That bit ironically ends up being one of the few light amusing moments in the movie.
Rhys-Davies shows up in sort of a glorified cameo. Maybe they thought by getting him in this it would harken back to Raiders. He does very little, his presence doesn’t inject anything to the movie and the pitstop they make hanging out at his village grinds the move to even more of a halt than before. I imagine he was lured in with a quick and easy payday.
There’s some pretty awkward editing along the way as well. There was one really awkward jump cut during a mid-conversation between Norris and Gosset that really made me wince. I had to go back to rewatch it to make sure I saw it happen.
By the time we get to the end in the temple and a deranged Lanham is threatening to kill Gossett if Norris doesn’t give him the magical dagger, I was spent. I was long past caring what happened or if they found any treasure or not.
Apparently, Norris brought this script to the great Cannon Gods Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus himself. They agreed to make it and it got trashed by critics. It managed to make a bit of money, but was less profitable and popular than what the normal Cannon/Norris movies had been, like Delta Force, Missing In Action and Invasion U.S.A.
Maybe hardcore Norris fans would enjoy seeing him play more of a comedic action hero, but others should stay away. I guess you can’t fault him for at least trying to shake up his image with Firewalker. It didn’t work though. The lighter Norris persona was put out to pasture and he went back to the more reliable parts that fan wanted to see him in. He would soon return with Missing In Action III and Delta Force II.
Firewalker 2 never happened.