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[Summer of Norris] ‘Good Guys Wear Black’ (1978)

This summer, Cinema Runner is embarking on a rock ’em, sock ’em, and blow ’em away adventure with one of film’s greatest action heroes: CHUCK NORRIS! Join us as we revisit the Karate Kommando’s cinematic works, with the occasional television project thrown in for fun! From Memorial Day to Labor Day, it’s time for a badass SUMMER OF NORRIS!

Meet John T. Booker, a former black ops commando turned political science professor/test car driver. Only Chuck Norris would roll with such a combination of professions. The Chuckster is back with a military thriller involving the surviving members of an old Vietnam unit being picked off one by one because they know too much. Why do they know too much? Because these expendable assets were intentionally sent on a suicide mission five years earlier, but a handful of them managed to make it out alive. If that sounds a little like both Commando and Predator (minus the alien hunter) to you, I thought so too.

Good Guys Wear Black plays like a predecessor to both films and yet the similarities end with the plot synopsis. This is a far more laid back flick than either of those gonzo ’80s gems, outside of a pretty fun opening military skirmish. Mostly the film just centers on Booker taking his sweet time going from teammate to teammate across the country and showing up too late to save them, all the bickering and sleeping with a reporter (Anne Archer).

Beyond those brief assassination moments, there’s not a whole lot of action to be found in this film. More often than not, tension and drama come from characters either withholding information from one another or giving each other lectures. If that sounds a little boring, well, it is. As hard as I tried, Good Guys Wear Black was nigh impossible for me to ever really get into.

James Franciscus (as a corrupt politician) and the aforementioned Anne Archer do their best to pump some life into the film, but they never quite manage it. Norris himself is fine as our jaded hero Booker, albeit a little too flat in his delivery at times. It’s clear that while he was fine playing the easy-going vigilante in Breaker! Breaker!, a slightly more complex protagonist was a bit outside of his wheelhouse at this point in this career. Don’t worry though, he’ll get there!

One thing that does set this film apart from earlier work like Yellow Faced Tiger and Breaker! Breaker! is a seasoned veteran in the director’s chair. Good Guys Wear Black was directed by Ted Post, who in addition to being a battle-hardened television director, also helmed such gems as Hang ‘Em High, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Magnum Force. While this picture might lag at times in terms of plot and pacing, everything within is well shot.

I’d be remiss if I went through this retro review without mention Norris’ pseudo-reprisal of John T. Booker. In 2012, a whopping 35 years after this film was released, Norris cameoed in The Expendables 2 as a commando by the name of “Booker”. No direct reference is made to this film specifically, but the appearance is clearly a nod to Good Guys Wear Black. Booker as portrayed in Expendables 2 honestly has more in common with Chuck’s ’80s roles (chiefly James Braddock and Scott McCoy), but I guess a man can change a lot over the course of 35 years. Apparently he still digs the color black though.

Fun late-in-the-game cameo reprisal aside, Good Guys Wear Black has faded into obscurity a bit within the annals of Norris infamy and it’s not hard to see why. It’s not a bad film by any means, but it’s also not a particularly engaging one. Sorry Chuckles, but you can’t win ’em all. Well, you can, but I can’t promise I’ll be thoroughly entertained every time out.

Chucks Given: 2.5 out of 5

Our Next Norris Opus: A Force of One (1979)

Previously On…
The Way of the Dragon/Yellow Faced Tiger | Breaker! Breaker!
Good Guys Wear Black

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