FOSSIL FILMS is a spoiler-heavy column devoted to unearthing the films that have either been lost to time, forgotten by the masses or just plain ignored. Some of these flicks will be good, some will be classics and some will be pretty bad. The standing question will be, is this movie worth being discovered (or rediscovered) or should it remain a fossil film?
PLOT: Looking to combine RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and the buddy pic genre as a recipe for box office success, Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan (you probably know them better as CANNON FILMS) brought the world FIREWALKER, a highly derivative PG action-adventure yarn starring Chuck Norris…and Louis Gossett Jr? Believe it or not, Norris and Gossett are the least strange things about this flick.
The plot, if you can call it one, features the duo as adventures in search of lost gold with help from a possibly psychic blonde (Melody Anderson) on the run from an evil shaman (Sonny Landham) who wants to sacrifice her in order to become a sun god known as…hey look, it’s the title of the movie…Firewalker. Throw into that a bunch of Native American mumbo jumbo, shape-shifters, body possession, a mystical dagger that summons folks to commit suicide (no kidding), magic potions, random cameos that go nowhere, low production values and a bunch of actors who are clearly slumming it and you’ve got yourself an idea of what to expect with FIREWALKER. Let’s proceed, shall we?
AVAILABILITY: Kinda easy, but pricey. FIREWALKER is currently unavailable on NetFlix and most other streaming services. Amazon has copies of it, but they will cost you between 30 and 40 bucks. Considering you’re looking at a bare-bones DVD of a movie that isn’t all that great to begin with, I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way for this one.
MGM (who bought up the Cannon film collection a few years back) recently re-upped their deal with Fox to bring their backlog to DVD and re-issue a good deal of their earlier releases. Long story short, wait. If you need to buy this, a brand new DVD release (still bare-bones and using the same sh*t transfer, I’m sure) of this will probably pop up in the $5 bin at your local Wal-Mart sometime in the next year or so. Or, if you’re like me, simply DVR this when it pops up on cable. You’re choice, but don’t choose the option that has you paying forty bones for this stinker.
THE RUNDOWN: I really hate calling FIREWALKER a stinker. I do. Used to love this movie when I was younger (I think I was ten or so) and used to watch it all the time. Now, I’ve ranted about my love of 80s Chuck Norris movies before, so I’m not going to bore you with a repeat. Just know that I dug all of this guy’s 80s output (70s and early 90s too, kinda stopped watching when he did FOREST WARRIOR) and my parents were oddly cool about letting me watch his movies, almost all of which were rated R.
The problem was that when friends came over I couldn’t drop R-rated movies on them. Most parents frown on that. Had a friend once who watched GREMLINS at my house and then promptly went and told his parents who came over and chewed out my parents who told me that he wasn’t allowed to watch movies at our house again. Period. No more. But that’s not the point here. The point is that I had only one Chuck Norris movie to show most of my friends and that was FIREWALKER, the only PG movie Chuck made in 80s.
Judging from the PG rating, you can see how this presented a bit of a problem for me. Here I am, trying to prove that Chuck Norris is the raddest action hero in the whole wide world and the only visual proof I can present to my buddies is goddamn FIREWALKER. I’m operating off the Biblical levels of ass-kickery Chuck displayed in THE DELTA FORCE and INVASION USA, but the only movie I can show these clowns is the one where my would-be hero walks around with a dopey smile on his face for 90% of the time and gets his ass handed to him more than once. Not fair, I tell you. Not f**king fair at all.
You’ll probably understand that, due to FIREWALKER being the only evidence I had as to Chuck’s legendary ass-kicking abilities, most of my friends considered Ralph Macchio to be the best…around! Nothing’s gonna keep him down! Love that song, love THE KARATE KID, but Ralph ain’t no Chuck. End of story.
Interesting how my childhood self loves the hell out of this flick and my adult self wonders what the hell I was thinking. Yes, I just 3rd person referenced to myself three times. That’s just how I roll. Let’s move on.
FIREWALKER is, simply put, a mess. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense on any level. The action scenes are weak, the sets look like they were assembled by a third grade art class, the dialogue is purely of the “progress the plot forward, punch line, progress more” variety, the acting is all over the map, the music is goofball synth nonsense…I could rant for days about all the things that DON’T work in this movie. Cannon obviously was just cashing in on a craze with this picture and it shows. Practically nothing works here…
…except Norris and Gossett. To a lesser extent, Melody Anderson works too but I think that is more from a purely T&A standpoint. Anderson’s performance is ten bags of awful, but she looks good while stinking up the joint. Norris and Gossett (who had a truly legendary run of bad films after winning an Oscar for his work in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN), on the other hand, are clearly having a ball and the movie almost works because of their chemistry. Note that I said “almost”. Thanks to an awful script and an even worse execution, their chemistry ends up being the only noteworthy thing about FIREWALKER.
And yeah, you could make an argument that Norris was really working outside of his wheelhouse here and that, in an of itself, is pretty noteworthy but I’m not the guy to make that argument. While I dug his interplay with Gossett, Chuck’s attempts at comedy are mostly cringe-worthy. Oh look, Chuck can’t shoot worth a damn! Har har. What’s that? Chuck also smiles a lot here, cracks tons of jokes, is quite the ladies man and actually at point…I kid you not…performs a miracle? Saints be praised, we have seen the softer side of Carlos Ray Norris! Hallelujah!
What’s truly strange about FIREWALKER is how damn scattershot it is. It’s almost as if director J. Lee Thompson (who, once upon a time, helmed such classics as the original CAPE FEAR and THE GUNS OF THE NAVARONE) just didn’t know what angle to take with the picture, so he took them all. There’s comedy, drama, action, romance, adventure, a little bit of horror, lots of faux-Native American stuff, a bit of political turmoil and even, no joke, a touch of APOCALYPSE NOW. There’s an entire ten minute bit featuring John Rhys-Davies (oh look, a not-so-random RAIDERS connection!) as a Kurtz-esque colonel living as a god in the jungle that stops the movie cold and has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot. What the hell were they thinking?
Suffice to say, FIREWALKER was quite the critical dud when it hit theaters back in 1986. The movie currently rests at a solid 0% freshness rating over on Rotten Tomatoes and for good reason. There is virtually no reason that you need to see FIREWALKER unless one of the following applies to you:
- You’re a Chuck Norris completist. Just remember, Norris completists will also have to slog through garbage like FOREST WARRIOR, HELLBOUND and LOGAN'S WAR one day. Maybe checking out all of Chuck's work isn't the best idea...
- You’re curious to see Norris and Gossett in a buddy pic. Their chemistry is the best, and pretty much only, reason you ever need to see FIREWALKER.
- You need a Melody Anderson hit. Might I suggest FLASH GORDON or DEAD & BURIED instead?
IS IT WORTH DIGGING UP?: NO! Oh, was that too loud? Trust me, you don't want to check this pic out. Re-visiting FIREWALKER was like letting Chuck Norris kick the living shit out of my childhood. Not worth it. Let this one stay buried along with all that fake treasure that Norris and Gossett discover in the finale.