A Force of One

Dojo karate instructor by day, ass-kicking underground pit fighting champ by night. That’s the narrative of about 1,000 80s action films, but at A Force of One has the benefit of starring Chuck Norris, the stoic, mop-topped meme king and martial arts phenom. 

The plot?

Members of the San Diego PD vice squad ranks are thinning more than Steve Seagal’s hair, thanks to being plucked off one by one by mysterious assailants TRAINED IN THE DEADLIEST OF MARTIAL ARTS. 

Completely baffled by the coroner’s reports, which suggest the cops had their necks twisted, the thin blue line types led by a befuddled Clu Gulager, decide they would benefit from instruction in karate. 

Chuck Norris, fresh from going toe-to-toe in a manly tilt with Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon, plays Matt Logan, a humble San Diego karate instructor called in as an ad hoc consultant to the city’s PD. 

This prompts the question, what good is a lousy beginner yellow belt for newly trained cops, if the killers are all experts? (unless, of course, Chuck Norris is the best instructor in the whole world. Hey, wouldn’t put it past him). 

But at its heart, A Force of One is all about the fighting. And that means, we get to see Chuck in action in the always inexplicably popular underground pit fighting round robin tournaments. He’s got a chief antagonist (champion kickboxer Bill Wallace as Sparks) who to circle all the squares, is in cahoots with some crooked coppers. 

Of note to genre fans: Superfly’s Ron O’Neal and The Psychic/Scanners’ Jennifer O’Neill play police vice squad members. That alone should be the price of admission (that’s just an expression: watch this one on Prime or YouTube). And there’s some seriously inept undercover work, as well as some of the most cheaply dressed ring entourage members you’ll ever see, attired in what look like those summer camp “staff” shirts.

A perfect easy-breezy Saturday afternoon watch, however, there’s probably not enough posterior kicking for the dyed-in-the-wool action head. 

[Editors’ note: a reminder, our book Mine’s Bigger Than Yours! The 100 Wackiest Action Movies, is out. It’s a romp through the world of fisticuffs, one-liners, jailbreaks, pit fighting, mercenaries, and really big explosions—all the stuff that makes action movies great].

Happy Death Day

The list of occasion-based horrors is a long one: Halloween, New Year’s Evil, Mother’s Day, April Fool’s Day. Hell, there’s even a Bloody Wednesday for those of you who celebrate Hump Day.

Now, there’s Happy Death Day to celebrate the passing of another year, hopefully without passing (!).

Being a detective in your own murder mystery is quite a conceit, especially so when it’s you that’s being murdered. Delving into cinema’s past, that’s the narrative of D.O.A., a Rudolph Maté-directed 50s film noir in which the protagonist has limited time to solve his own demise before the poison kicks in, and he kicks it (promise, that’s the end of death-related wordplay. After all, why beat a dead horse? ACK).

In Happy Death Day, Jessica Rothe plays Tree (Theresa) a college co-ed who keeps awaking to the same day, day in, day out a la Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, which the movie lazily references toward its end. Worse than Bill Murray’s plight in that one, however, is that a killer in a laminated mask is stalking her, prompting the horror/ philosophical line of inquiry: if a Tree is felled in a college quad and there’s nobody around to hear it…

She soon enlists the help of pal Carter, the undergrad who keeps having to deal with a rather unpleasant and very hungover blonde waking up in his dorm room.

Together, they must orchestrate a plan to move Tree beyond September 18, the day of her repeated, continued (and very stress-inducing) demise.

Happy Death Day has a great premise, and many a commentator has likened the feel to Scream, for better or for worse. Nothing against Scream, but that movie inspired a bunch of inferior self-referential winking horrors in a trend we thought would never end.

Happy Death Day is a Blumhouse production, and knock a star off or add a star depending on your feelings toward that production company. At best, it produces A- solid, capable, if unspectacular efforts (think Sinister or Get Out). At its worst, there’s dismal drek like Fantasy Island.

HDD is solidly in the former camp. It’s pretty sharp, and Jessica Rothe as Tree carries the day with her timing and charm.

*** (out of 5)