Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983) review



Chuck Norris (J.J. McQuade), David Carradine (Rawley Wilkes), Barbara Carrera (Lola Richardson), Leon Isaac Kennedy (Jackson), Robert Beltran (Kayo Ramos), L.Q. Jones (Dakota), R.G. Armstrong (Tee Tyler), Dana Kimmell (Sally McQuade), Daniel Frishman (Falcon), William Sanderson (Snow)

Directed by Steve Carver

The Short Version: The essence of 'Hairy Man' movies is this, the best Italian western made in the USA starring a beer-guzzlin', attitude totin', sawed-off shotgun shootin' Chuck Norris as a 'take no shit' Texas Ranger with a fistful of V8 (that's Violence to the 8th Power) for Mexican bandits and bloodthirsty arms dealers. The main event is David 'Caine' Carradine from KUNG FU vs. Chuck Norris, the pissed off Yeti. It's hot as hell in Texas, but one's never sure if that's sweat rolling off of Norris or testosterone seeping from his pores. Chuck is definitely amuck in one of his hairiest, most entertaining adventures ever.

After a hard day of throttling Mexican bandits, lone wolf J.J. McQuade becomes entangled with a midget mobster and his partner in crime, Rawley Wilkes, a ruthless arms dealer aligned with global terrorists. McQuade gets in over his head once Wilkes targets his daughter and anyone close to him. McQuade, his inexperienced partner, and a federal agent defy orders to take down Wilkes and his men before they can ship out whole warehouses of weapons into the hands of foreign radicals.

It's kind of difficult for any red-blooded American male to watch LONE WOLF MCQUADE and not walk around afterward with their chest poked out, grunting and groaning for a few hours till the inner hairy man has dragged his knuckles along the ground on his way back into the cave. One of exploitation cinemas finest filmmakers is partially responsible for just how much fun LONE WOLF MCQUADE is. The guy that brought you the likes of BIG BAD MAMA (1974), DRUM (1976), AN EYE FOR AN EYE (1981), and BULLETPROOF (1988) was behind this modern day western, and one of the chucksters best movies.

If Dirty Harry were a Texas Ranger, he'd look a helluva lot like J.J. McQuade. And McQuade takes the Dirty part seriously, often looking like soap and water are not his friends; speaking of which, McQuade isn't very friendly much of the time. His best pals are his fists, feet, his guns, and his trusty pet wolf. He also has a love affair with beer; Texas brewed Pearl Beer to be exact. He smiles one time in the movie -- something you don't see Chuck doing too often; most likely that was due to him having just drank a beer.

Chuck Norris, the archetype 'Macho Man' and hands down the hairiest action hero ever, is in full-on pissed off Yeti mode as the title angry Ranger that prefers to work alone, but gets saddled with an eager, younger partner (EATING RAOUL's Robert Beltran) in the hopes of keeping the maverick in check. McQuade eventually warms up to the guy and the two work well off each other. There's an attempt at a mentor/apprentice type relationship, but it's never elaborated on to any degree. The same applies with McQuade and his devoted pet wolf. There's little interaction between the two, so when the film gets deadly serious later on, the dramatic punch enabling McQuade to seek revenge is weaker than it could have been. 

Still, Carver and his crew fashioned a fitfully fun little movie that feels like a sequel was intended before this picture saw release. One never came, but LONE WOLF MCQUADE did inspire eight seasons of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER (1993-2001) a decade later. Carver's film pays homage to DIRTY HARRY (1971) and an even bigger nod to Italian western movies. The opening sequence is dragged out much like a Leone film -- short on dialog and long on music via a fantastic Francesco De Masi score. The requisite closeups are here, too.

Machismo, the core element in Tough Guy cinema, is metaphorically represented almost exclusively through Norris, a walking slab of testosterone. Much of this macho overload radiating off of Chuck Norris's body likely came from the zenful mind of one John Milius, the undisputed king of American made manly movies. He's credited as a spiritual advisor.

LONE WOLF MCQUADE's manliness is exemplified in a few scenes. One such moment occurs when Chuck wields a sawed-off shotgun that gives the appearance he's got a firm grasp on his manhood, partaking in a Buford Pusserish moment of 'walk tall and carry a big dick'. Another sequence has McQuade paying a visit to the Dr. Miguelito Loveless of this movie -- a midget mafiosi named Falcon, lover of video games and illegal guns. Both he and Chuck pull pistols on each other and Falcon is preoccupied with who has the bigger barrel. 

Another scene focuses on romanticism but manages to lace it with a bit of dirty innuendo. The Chuckster is rolling around in the mud (where McQuade is likely most comfortable considering his unkempt home decor and vast collection of trash) with Barbara Carrera. As they slather around in slow motion in the mire kissing passionately while Francesco De Masi's Morricone worshiping score soothes the savage beast, Barbara caresses a hose that is ejaculating a stream of water. The scene preceding this is priceless, and if you didn't know better, you'd think they were a married couple.

McQuade comes home and finds Lola cleaning up his piss stain of a house, and almost immediately becomes disgusted because he can finally see the walls and floor. Unable to recognize bottles of vitamins that now adorn the top of his fridge, he swipes them off in anger, opens the door and yells, "Where's my beer?!" Scenes like this are frequent in LONE WOLF MCQUADE and offer Norris a chance to do a bit of deadpan humor, parodying male chauvinism. Beer is extremely important to McQuade. Beer to him is what spinach was to Popeye. 

One of the best, if wholly unbelievable scenes (that also involves beer) has our hero buried alive in his supercharged Dodge Ram. McQuade awakens to assess the situation and upon realizing he's buried under six feet of earth, decides to drench himself in beer. Upon doing so, he nitros the hell out of his truck till it rises from its grave. After all that, Chuck emerges, shotgun blasts some bad guys and collapses. His partner rushes to his aid and Chuck asks for another beer.

David Carradine -- Caine in KUNG FU (1972-1975) -- is the main villain. He's the type of cigar-chompin' sadist that drives a Benz bearing a front license plate that says 'Carate'. Carradine isn't the most imposing villain Norris ever fought onscreen, but considering how popular he was, the marquee value was notable. Carradine had played many memorable roles and occasionally inserted a bit of martial arts into the non-martial arts parts he played. Carradine's Wilke's is the braggadocious type (it would seem Carradine was just playing himself) who takes an instant dislike to McQuade; not just because he's a Ranger, but because he has a reputation for being a Tough Guy. Upon first meeting him Wilke's says coyly, "I understand you're very good with your hands and feet."

Wilkes loves his cigars. In virtually every scene he's smoking one. It's comparable to McQuade and his beer that he obsesses over. The difference is Wilkes doesn't appear to derive strength from a cigar the way the Ranger does from his Pearl Beer.

Everything in the film leads up to a highly anticipated big fight at the end between Norris and Carradine. Even the poster advertising hyped this match-up. Both men were martial arts icons; well, more so Norris than Carradine. Both men's characters were somewhat similar to their real-life personalities; more so Carradine than Norris. The fight itself is fine, but not nearly as good as it could have been. Norris was very smooth and powerful in the earlier fights, but for this one, he seems to be catering to Carradine's limitations. The only master shots during this fight are when the combatants are sizing each other up. There's a lot of editing when Carradine is seen with the upper hand. There's even a shot of Carradine attacking where the camera is sped up! When Norris is on the offensive there are no cuts to make him look good. He didn't need any. Carradine just isn't a very good foil for Chuck Norris, but to see them square off was a pretty big deal back in the day.

The rest of the cast are equally fabulous in terms of name value. The casting department amassed some great people for this film, all of which should be recognizable to genre fans.

Barbara Carrera is the object of two men's affections, is an accomplished horse rider, and packs a mean right hook. She's married to the sleazy Wilkes, but ends up falling for, and sleeping with the much hairier McQuade. This adulterous behavior is kind of surprising for a hero like the one Chuck is playing, but it is alleviated somewhat upon learning Wilkes forced her to marry him; yet, predictably, she doesn't divulge this information till the last minute to keep McQuade in pissed-off Yeti mode a bit longer.

Dana Kimmell plays Norris's daughter, and if he'd been with her in FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D (1982), Jason wouldn't have stood a chance. 

Speaking of Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder, the stunt performer/actor who became the most popular actor to don the hockey mask, worked on this production as a stunt man.

Robert Beltran had just finished EATING RAOUL (1982) before becoming a Texas trooper whose time with McQuade is a rite of passage. By the end, he too has embraced his inner hairy man, and McQuade has left the lone wolf part of his personality behind him and embraced having a partner.

Leon Isaac Kennedy was Too Sweet in the PENITENTIARY films. Like some of the other supporting players, he isn't given a whole lot to work with, but his presence is welcome. He completes this unique multi-racial triangle of law enforcement -- McQuade is the gruff Texas Ranger, Kayo is the green local cop, and Jackson is the federal officer who isn't above cutting some red tape to get things done.

Texas native and cult film favorite L.Q. Jones is another Ranger, and when he's receiving an award near the beginning, he looks a lot like Colonel Sanders. Jones, most often seen in westerns on the big and small screen, is one of the good guys here; although the probability is high the word 'dead' is branded on his forehead underneath that mop of hair.

Genre stalwart R.G. Armstrong is as grumpy as he's always been. He's McQuade's superior; and considering the lone wolf seldom listens to orders, I guess I'd be grumpy, too. Armstrong is always a welcome face, and the man was everywhere back then.

LONE WOLF MCQUADE is a highly entertaining action movie. There's some great stuff in B.J. Nelson's script, even if some angles would have only made the movie even better had they been fleshed out. At nearly 110 minutes, there's entirely too many things going on. It does benefit immeasurably from a stunningly boisterous music score by Francesco De Masi, and any Chuck Norris fan worth their Pearl Beer will enjoy seeing him in arguably his most colorfully over the top Tough Guy role.

This review is representative of the MGM Blu-ray.

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