*. So there’s this cop, you see. Actually he’s not a cop, but a semi-mythical frontier figure known as a Texas Ranger. Name of Walker. No, that’s not right either. Name of McQuade. J. J. McQuade. Chuck Norris.
*. Even the toughest thugs and gangsters on the border grow still at the mention of the words “Texas Ranger.” This McQuade is a bad-ass who likes to power around the border in his mud spattered Ram Charger, living off a diet of Pearl Beer. Pearl Beer and nothing but. When he cracks one open it’s like Popeye ripping the lid off a can of spinach.
*. As a cop his methods are . . . unorthodox. But he gets results. Even though his so-called superiors are always busting his ass for not being more media friendly. His marriage has broken down but he’s still on good terms with his ex and his daughter. It’s just that being a cop was too hard when it came to having a relationship. You know how it is.
*. Luckily for him, this means he’s available for a random hot babe (Barbara Carrera) to fall in love (and in bed) with him at first sight. She’s easy on the eyes and she can clean house. Too bad she already belongs to a mean dude who smokes a cigarillo and who also knows karate (David Carradine). Hell, the mean dude even drives a car with a license plate that says CARATE.
*. McQuade works best on his own. A bit of a “lone wolf,” you might say. Though he does have an older mentor figure named Dakota (L. Q. Jones). But then admin saddles him with a rookie partner, who’s also Hispanic. McQuade just hopes the kid won’t get in his way. He also hopes the damn Feds sent out by Washington don’t get in his way either.
*. Some bad guys are up to some bad things. Like smuggling weapons . . . somewhere. To terrorists. Maybe. The Ranger is on their case, but then they push his daughter off a cliff and send her to the hospital. And kill his mentor. And kill his dog! That’s going too far. Now it’s personal. But first the chief has to put him on leave. He doesn’t want the Ranger turning this into a vendetta.
*. So McQuade and the kid and the black FBI guy (the only Fed you can trust) head south of the border to take out Mr. Carate. This they do with machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades, a crossbow, and lots of karate kicks. Bad guys go flying through the air from explosions. Good guys dance between hail storms of bullets. The black FBI guy gets gut shot, but it’s no big thing. He can walk it off. The babe gets killed, dying in McQuade’s arms. Damn. Now it’s really personal. McQuade and Mr. Carate draw their weapons on each other but then toss them away so as to settle this mano a mano. Then McQuade blows Mr. Carate up, because it was written into Carradine’s contract that his character couldn’t be bested in hand-to-hand combat.
*. You can tell from this synopsis why Chuck Norris went on to become such a figure of fun in later years. There’s being an action star and then there’s a career built on cookie-cutter stuff like this.
*. But while Norris is a terrible actor, and his movies generally range from bad to very bad, Lone Wolf McQuade is pretty easy to take. The whole thing is done up as a kind of homage to spaghetti Westerns, down to Francesco De Masi’s score, so highly derivative of Morricone. The mix of martial arts and the Western had been done before with David Carradine playing the monk Caine in the television series Kung-Fu. Basically the masters of the martial arts are now gunslingers, and vice versa. Kurosawa had raided the genre, Leone had ripped off Kurosawa, and now there was no telling East from West.
*. The fight scenes are reasonably well handled. And if they’re over pretty quick at least they’re not edited all to hell like so many other martial arts movies. Norris and Carradine wanted to do as much of the fighting themselves as possible, and I think that helps.
*. The script, as I’ve outlined, is just a string of clichés. Apparently John Milius had a hand in it, and it sounds like something he didn’t spend a lot of time on. He didn’t get a credit for writing but was listed as a “spiritual advisor.” Whatever that means.
*. Just before they fight Carradine says to Norris “I’ve waited a long time for this.” Like what? 48 hours? I think that’s as long as it’s been since they met.
*. OK, I do have to admit that driving his truck out of its grave Bat Out of Hell style was great. If I were rating movies on a scale of 1 to 10 that scene alone would be worth a point.
*. They were clearly setting McQuade up to be a franchise hero, though it would take a decade for Norris to return as Walker, Texas Ranger. But the years didn’t matter. He’d always been a dinosaur.