The Octagon (1980)

Scott James a retired martial arts champion gets caught up in a complicated web involving a wealthy heiress trying to hire him for an assassination job that includes an international terrorist group of ninjas and their training ground called ‘The Octagon’. Who’s actually led by his brother, turned nemesis from his youthful days. His friend A.J. takes up the offer of the job, but Scott does he best to convince him out of it. Although he finds himself stuck in it, when A.J. goes after the group. Along the way he gets help from an old friend/work buddy McCarn.

Whenever you got a ninja problem, Chuck Norris is your man. Though, I take it you already know that and will be relishing in every sequence involving Norris putting his boot into some ninjas. He’s here to punish those who abuse their ninja abilities. It’s too bad that many of those moments are very few and far between. As Norris wants to play detective, have flashbacks of his past, go for job interviews and constantly listen to his pondering voice in his head. And what’s with the echoing lisp to it… I couldn’t stop myself from laughing whenever he decided to take some time out to express his thoughts… in his head. Just brilliant! Only Norris could pull it off with such grace, ha-ha! This bizarre aspect only enhanced the unusualness and hazy cloud that formed amongst the over-populated material. I never thought I’ll be saying this about a Norris film, but it has too much going on in the story and this makes it feel rather drawn out when its not shoving in those crackerjack martial art sequences. Otherwise with so much going on and it never truly being clear. From that it manages to rally up many random revelations and plot developments. Despite this its still a corn riddled outing on Norris’ behalf and the junky script only goes on to prove it. The stupidity, machismo and ninja talk features rather heavily… to heavily in the woodenly talkative script.

This is one of Norris earlier features and one of his first lead roles. He’s pretty much leaden in his acting abilities on this occasion (they gave him too much dialogues, when he should been kicking ass and having fun with it), but he would go on to hone down that charismatic appeal and personality he holds so greatly in the films that followed on. Or am I the only one of a few who thinks that? I find his presence to be far more engaging when his in more action-oriented roles that ask for some slight wit along the way. Anyhow this was probably made to turn him into the next American martial arts star, which would take him to Hollywood for even bigger roles. Oh no, that didn’t entirely happen and he did get into some b-grade action flicks that flooded the 80s with the odd occasional big flick (Invasion USA, Delta Force). His acting is passable as a reluctant, but I must do it for the team Scott James, but when it came to the action. Those alert senses were brisk and flashy. When the film finally kicks into gear (in the latter end), up pops the very well choreographed and swiftly executed fight sequences capably directed by Eric Karson. Those final two fight scenes are a real blast. Too bad he couldn’t get the pacing of the whole film to be like that, as it’s downright sluggish for most part. Making up the rest of the performances is the wittily badass Lee Van Cleef (who steals the few scenes he’s in) as the sneaky underhand McCern who feeds Scott with information he needs. Karen Carlson is horrible. Best leave it at that. Art Hindle is reasonable as Scott’s go-getter friend A.J. Tadashi Yamashita nails down that venomously vile turn as Scott’s brother Seigura. An elegantly biting Carol Bagdasarian turns up as a trainee terrorist who wants to make amends. Also in tiny, but potent parts are Jack Carter, Ernie Hudson and Richard Norton. The gloomily cheap b-grade production pretty much looks it. The lighting comes across as poorly dim and editing is quite haggard, but the beaming music score and stylishly vogue camera-work are competently suited into the picture.

A mildly amusing (and at times unintentionally rib-tickling) offering, but it just takes too long break out of it chains and the flat-nature to begin with for some might just be too hard to overcome. Really Chuck Norris’ fans need only apply.