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!
A city’s streets are being flooded with drugs and those responsible are killing cops. Our faithful public servants aren’t being shot or stabbed, however. They’re being killed with sheer brute force. A “Karate Killer” is protecting the drug trade and the cops need outside help. They need someone well-versed in the deadly martial arts. They need a man who is A Force of One. They need Chuck Norris!
Well, they need karate champion Matt Logan (Norris), but you get the drift. Paul Aaron directs this martial arts actioner and how he came about the gig is an interesting tale. Good Guys Wear Black director Ted Post was originally set to reunite with Norris on this film, but bowed out early on due to a scheduling conflict. Aaron, who was initially hired to just rewrite the script to suit Norris, ended up being offered the gig and he took it on the advice of his young stepson, Keanu Reeves! In fact, if you keep an eye out during the evidence room sequence, you can see Reeves’ name on one of the boxes.
Aaron was already familiar with martial arts cinema, having taken Keanu to see such films repeatedly for more than a decade, including The Way of the Dragon. This familiarity aided in his retooling of Shaft creator Ernest Tidyman’s original screenplay. It also might explain the film’s slightly disjointed feel. At its core, A Force of One is trying to be both a police procedural and a martial arts revenge film. It mostly works, but the two narratives being at war with one another frequently pumps the brakes on its momentum.
A friend recently likened this to a TV episode expanded to feature length. He’s not wrong. This very much feels like your standard cop show at the time, with special guest star Chuck Norris and the added minutes mostly being unneeded filler. That’s the downside to A Force of One.
On the positive end of the chop-socky pool, we have a pretty great supporting cast. Jennifer O’Neil is the film’s co-lead as Detective Amanda “Mandy” Rust and she gives it her all, despite not having much on-screen chemistry with Chuck. We are also gifted the great Clu Gulager as Chief Dunne and Superfly himself, Ron O’Neal, as a less than savory cop. Their combined presence helps to alleviate a lot of the staleness in the procedural narrative. There’s also a nice subplot involving Logan’s adopted son, who happens to be African-American. It’s a nice bit of progressive storytelling that one normally doesn’t expect from this era, even if it does ultimately end in tragedy.
Action-wise, between the Karate Killer killing cops and Norris tuning up goons, there are plenty of hand-to-hand combat sequences to be found within. None of these set pieces particularly standout, but they are serviceable enough to make the film entertaining on a pure action front. All in all, A Force of One is a step up from the glacially-paced monologuing of Good Guys Wear Black, but still a not quite as fun as Breaker! Breaker!.
Chucks Given: 3 out of 5
Our Next Norris Opus: The Octagon (1980)
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