Two undercover cops, seasoned Murphy (Eugene Butler) and his rookie partner Johnson (Kevin Geer), sit in their car watching intently as a young blonde-haired man races through the busy streets of San Diego on his skateboard. "This punk is a mover, I can smell it!" exclaims Murphy and – denying his partner’s pleas to call for back-up – they move in, sneaking into the building they’ve just witnessed the lad enter.

Alas, an assassin in ski-mask and tracksuit attacks them and kills the pair with his bare hands. You can imagine the disdain of their superior Sam (Clu Gulager), head of the narcotics division they worked on, when he’s there to witness their corpses being fished out of the river.

Sam holds a meeting with the remainder of his team, who are all baffled as to how two of their men could’ve been killed without there being a trace of a weapon or any obvious signs of cause of death. It’s up to the team’s sole female member, Mandy (Jennifer O’Neill), to suggest what we already know to be true: the killer was "one of those karate freaks".

The team decide it would be in their best interests to explore the world of "karate men" (it seems ‘martial artists’ was not a common term back in 1979, at least not to screenwriter Ernest Tidyman). And this leads us to our first glimpse of the big fella himself, Matt (Chuck Norris).

Following watching him indulge in a bout of ROCKY-esque kickboxing, the team then check in on him as a teacher at his local karate class. They’re impressed to the extent that Sam goes at him with a plea: train his team in the art of karate and help them catch the killer.

Matt is given a tour around the police station by Sam and meets most of the team he’d potentially be working with. Unsurprisingly, he comes out of the tour with nothing but disinterest in Sam’s proposition.

Even a drive back to his karate school from the lovely Mandy initially fails to convince Matt to help the cops in their fight against this killer and the fiendish drug-dealers he must work for. But it does at least afford him the opportunity to tell her about the adopted son he looks after, ever since the mother died of … drugs.

Using this to her advantage, Mandy takes Matt to see a drug addict she knows. This, along with the later death of said adopted son, prompts him to give the punch bag at the local gym a good thrashing before ringing Sam up and agreeing to help his team.

And so, Matt begins training the team in the practices of karate. This in turn allows him to get closer to the details of the case, and he’s quick to deduce – with Mandy’s keen help – that the baddies include not only old Vietnam war pals of his, but a corrupt cop who’s in their midst too …

It’s a lot to take on, especially with a kickboxing championship fight coming up. But if anyone can handle such pressures, old Chuck surely can.

Despite a no-frills premise and fairly quick kick-off, the one thing that surprised me most about revisiting A FORCE OF ONE is that it’s actually quite slow. Well, it isn’t, but it feels as though it is. All the characters that are introduced are interesting to a degree and the action is fairly regular, but most of it is brief and fleeting in the first half of the film as priority is given to advancing the crime mystery element of the plot.

For the first 45 minutes at least, this feels like an episode of some 70s cop show. Not that that’s a bad thing, but those who know Chuck Norris from later works such as MISSING IN ACTION may be surprised by the lack of explosive set-piece scenes he’s graced with here (when the fighting does come, it’s very well-choreographed).

What’s indisputable is that Norris was very much a product of his time, and that time has been and long gone. He’s amiable enough but far removed from what moviegoers of the last two decades are likely to expect of an action hero. He’s not handsome (he looks like a Labrador), he’s not especially buff and – although this is an early film for him – he already looks quite old. But in a curious way, this all makes him more endearing.

Rife with corny dialogue, ugly cinematography, bombastic jazz and clichéd characters, this is 70s B-movie fodder of the purest order. It just doesn’t push hard enough during its admittedly well-staged action sequences to elevate itself into "cult classic" territory.

The film is presented uncut in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio (although, as a sign of the times, note that the BBFC have dropped the film’s rating from an 18 to a 15 certificate). The full 1080p HD transfer is largely clean and something of a revelation if, like me, the last time you saw A FORCE OF ONE was on VHS: this is far clearer, brighter and discernible than I ever remember the film being. That said, occasional damage, some inherent softness and what looks at times like being noise reduction, prevent this from being a sterling transfer.

Generally speaking though, I think fans of the film are going to be very pleased with the way it looks here.

English audio comes in optional mixes of 2.0 stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. While the latter has its strengths and isn’t badly balanced between its 6 channels, there was a certain synthetic feel to it at times that eventually saw me opting for the earthier 2.0 mix.

Anchor Bay Entertainment’s region B blu-ray kicks off with quick start-up which leads into an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

We get some interesting bonus features on this release.

First up is an alternately candid and lacklustre commentary track from director Paul Aaron. It’s not one of the best, but there are some interesting anecdotes for those with a hard-on for Mr Norris.

"How American Cinema Changed Hollywood Forever" is a window-boxed 28-minute featurette taking a look at how the studio, American Cinema, made its mark on the mainstream film industry in the 1970s and 1980s with titles such as DIRT and THE OCTAGON. Lots of insiders give talking head-style interviews in-between all-too-brief snippets of the films in question.

A 15-minute "Making Of " featurette starts with a US TV spot for A FORCE OF ONE before settling into interviews with the likes of producer Alan Belkin, Aaron and ‘Head of production’ Jean Higgins. They speak of script rewrites, casting the film and how they avoided getting an X rating in America. Again, this feature is window-boxed.

The aforementioned 32-second TV spot turns up again, in isolation. As with all of the above extras, it’s presented in standard definition.

The film’s original US trailer looks very good in 16x9 enhanced HD, clocking in bat just less than 3 minutes in length.

A FORCE OF ONE is no classic. But then, people buying a Chuck Norris film should already know that. It is fun though, especially with a couple of beers. And it looks good on Anchor Bay’s blu-ray release.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review