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Good Guys Wear Black   D

American Cinema

Year Released: 1979
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Ted Post
Writers: Bruce Cohn, Mark Medoff
Cast: Chuck Norris, Anne Archer, James Franciscuss, Lloyd Haynes, Dana Andrews.

Review by Gauti Fridriksson

SWAT teams are cool. This is common knowledge among male movie fans. Chuck Norris, however, is not cool. Not only should this be common knowledge, it should be a law. I say this because I'm particularly irked at how Good Guys Wear Black looked to be a promising special forces blastfest, and turned out to be nothing more than a paper-thin pseudo-political thriller with faux aspirations towards intelligence, butchered every step of the way by one of the worst actors in the western world.

John T. Booker (Norris) is the former leader of the Black Tigers, which was the name given to an elite squadron of covert operations jungle fighters during the Vietnam War. The film begins with a flashback scene (shot, inexplicably, in bleary soft focus), where we are shown a bunch of black-clad fellows skulking around the jungle on a POW recovery mission, then (natch) getting into a firefight. From beginning to end this sequence makes very little sense; it's shot in such complete darkness that the only things visible amid the muzzle flashes are Norris's flaxen locks as he dances back and forth, dodging bullets and successfully evading the cameraman. By the end of this 10-minute display of nothing, our heroes run away, sans POWs, and come to the conclusion they've been set up. This spawns the immortal line, "Everything went wrong by the numbers... and that takes planning." which Norris delivers with all the stony-faced resolution of an 8-year-old who's not gonna get his lunch stolen from him this time around.

A jerky cut, and we're back to the present (actually 1978), where the film's actual storyline begins its turgid life. Norris is approached by reporter Margaret (Anne Archer in an early role), who seems to know an awful lot about the operations conducted by the Black Tigers. It would seem someone is methodically picking off every one of the former members of the team, and Norris just might be next. Heaven forfend. So, off they go on a trek to uncover the truth, prancing around in an inane game of spot-the-conspiracy, with him distrusting her for most of the way, but of course, y'know, not too much to skip out on having a healthy amount of sex with her. In fact, their burgeoning relationship brings out the movie's only intentional chuckle, a double entendre almost worthy of a Bond flick: Norris, questioning Archer about her involvement in the whole shady business, spouts, "You fit in somewhere." Turning off the lights, she replies, "So do you."

But all this doesn't actually happen that fast. Good Guys Wear Black is amazingly long-winded considering its low-grade material. The only thing that moves fast is the camerawork, and even that only happens sporadically. The camera can't really decide where it stands. Sometimes it's busily enthusiastic, panning all over the place and zooming in and out in self-indulgent glee, and other times it simply hasn't the slightest clue where to look. The editing is also jerky in places, with continuity glitches frequently breaking the film's already-weak spell.

The dialogue and some of the scenes present a fountain of unintentional laughs. In one scene, a bag lady spots a man with a silenced pistol in his hand. Instead of, say, running away or hitting the ground, she indignantly huffs, "What are you doing with that gun?" Cue Norris, who jumps into the frame and kicks the man. Bag lady promptly runs away in abject terror. Indeed, Norris's kicks are especially deadly here; he kills two people in the film, in both cases kicking them while they're in or on moving vehicles. Once, he comes flying down a hill and places a swift jump kick on a passing motorcyclist, knocking her off her bike and down another hill. The second time, he deftly drop-kicks a car that's driving straight at him, then struts away with not so much as a scratch on him. If I were Doc Martens, I'd take royalties.

Anne Archer is pretty good here, and compared to the rest of the cast she's a big shining starlet. Of course, since she so outshines the leading star (Norris, in case you've forgotten), her character is killed off in the middle of the film; her plane explodes as Norris watches from the terminal, and I'll be damned if the bastard doesn't just look happy about it. Then again, maybe that's just his "sad face." I honestly can't tell. It was the only time his expression changed during the film, and it consisted of two lifted eyebrows.

But the really amazing thing is that his acting actually grows worse in key scenes. In one crucial scene of exposition, when the supposedly intriguing secrets of the movie were given away, I was so distracted by his exceptionally heinous performance that the whole plot thing just whizzed right by me. But by that time I was semi-vegetative anyway, so that's a relatively minor sin. I did notice one line, though -- a classically unintentional guffaw inducer if ever there was one -- delivered by Norris with such earnestness and feeling Kevin Spacey would be envious: "It's not that you don't deserve to be Secretary of State. It's just that you don't deserve to live." The latter part, of course, spoken with the same inflection a father would use when telling his kid "Well done, son."

Bottom line? Boring but funny. Torturing oneself through this drivel just to see the funny parts is almost worth it -- almost, but not quite. The strain of keeping your attention on the film takes its toll after a while, and during some of the more talky parts I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness. I'm pretty sure that's a natural response, though. Lord knows the filmmakers were doing it.

Review published 03.19.2001.

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