Wisecracking adventurers Max Donigan (Chuck Norris) and Leo Porter (Louis Gossett Jr.) are first seen being chased across the desert by gun-toting Arabs in dune buggies led, bizarrely enough, by a Mongolian general (Richard Lee-Sung). After a narrow escape, the hapless pair are hired by bubble-haired blonde Patricia Goodwyn (Melody Anderson) who has psychic visions and needs two “brave but not smart” men to help find a lost Native American treasure. A map leads the group to a mystic cave where Max discovers a magic dagger. Later, Apache storyteller Tall Eagle (Will Sampson) recounts the legend of “Firewalker”, an ancient spirit warrior, then hands Patricia a handy mystic talisman. The trail then leads them to South America but the group are pursued by one-eyed, comic book loving shaman-warrior El Coyote (Sonny Landham) who believes the treasure can endow him with Firewalker’s spirit powers.
Whereas in the Sixties studios were out to imitate James Bond, in the Eighties it was Indiana Jones. Cannon Film moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus produced a triptych of terrible sub-Indy adventures including the Italian-made 3-D effort Treasure of the Four Crowns (1982), the H. Rider Haggard bastardization King Solomon’s Mines (1985) (which spawned the sequel Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986)), and this larky Chuck Norris vehicle that is similar in tone and shares a director in veteran J. Lee Thompson. Firewalker ranks among the hairy karate kicker’s sporadic attempts to break away from playing cops and commandos and try something a little different. Other examples include the children’s movie Sidekicks (1992), the horror themed Hellbound (1994) and canine buddy picture Top Dog (1995), all directed by his brother Aaron Norris here serving as stunt coordinator for the last time prior to his directorial debut with Missing in Action III (1988).
While Chuck usually plays it stoic and serious, Firewalker gave him a chance to expose his goofy, comic side. Frankly, it’s rather jarring to watch him play a dimwit who is such a lousy shot and proven wrong about everything. He talks to a skull, poses as a Catholic priest, sleeps through a near fatal plane crash, tells tall tales about tracking Bigfoot, and mugs shamelessly to generally less-than-hilarious effect. The script, written by Robert Gosnell, apes the one-damn-thing after-another pace of the peerless Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), but the action is staid (save for Chuck’s ever impressive spin kicks) and the gags are leaden, mistaking the wit of Steven Spielberg and co. for cynical sarcasm. J. Lee Thompson, once such a visually intriguing filmmaker, resorts to a flat mise-en-scene matched by the drab performances. After winning an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman (1981), Louis Gossett Jr. spent the decade slumming it in lazy action fare and does so here. Meanwhile Melody Anderson adds yet another dim heroine to her C.V.
Quite how the director of Ice Cold in Alex (1958), The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) sank so low is a mystery for the ages, but Thompson could usually be relied upon to throw in the occasional eccentricity. Here that includes a weird voodoo sequence wherein Chuck is assaulted by a seductive Indian witch (Zaide Sylvia Gutierrez) who might be a shape-shifting serpent, and cinema’s most pointless bar brawl. While Cannon’s Allan Quartermain movies could at least muster a camp chuckle or two, Firewalker is a witless bore further hampered by its cheesy roller derby soundtrack. John Rhys-Davies appears as a Southern accented guerrilla leader named Corky. It wasn’t a proper Eighties adventure film unless he was involved.