2.5 out of 4 stars
Chuck Norris’ 1980 cult classic The Octagon is a touch reminiscent of the soft-core skin flicks of the era; the same soft-focus lens, the muddy, dim wash to the film and a bold appreciation of man fur. More than any of those things, it is evident that much of the plot and all of the dialogue serve as padding between the “money shots” of Chuck Norris kicking some righteous ass.
Despite the fact that it is no longer 2007, I suspect that at the very mention of Chuck Norris, I open myself up to the ire of the Internet and its endless arsenal of decrees about the various ways in which Chuck Norris will kick my ass. But as our hero Scott James knows, In a world of choices, for this movie lover there is no choice…I must face THE OCTAGON.
If Chuck Norris were to join James Lipton for a session of Inside the Actors Studio, Lipton would most assuredly describe Norris’ performance in The Octagon as nothing short of “scrumtrilescent.” For while we rarely see Chuck’s lips move—he’s more of the strong, silent, kickin’ and hittin’ type—the audience picks up everything they need to know from Scott James’ stoic demeanor and subtle twitch of his sensitive (but masculine) blond mustache.
Screenwriter Leigh Chapman and director Eric Karson employ a delightful technique throughout The Octagon in which we hear all of Scott’s innermost thoughts in a running monologue. But this is no ordinary voiceover. Indeed, this is a very special voiceover, delivered in a heavy stage whisper in an echo chamber. The mystical reverb heightens the sense of drama and impending doom. “There’s someone here. I feel it. Where? (where)?! WHERE? (where)?!” This voiceover is a thing of beauty, second only to Morgan Freeman in anything he’s ever done.
This is the part of the movie review in which I dispense with all of the pertinent details about the plot of the film (much like Chuck’s foot dispenses with a lot of asses). This seems a rather pointless task, given how needlessly complicated The Octagon’s plot is, when really, all anyone wants is to see Chuck deliver a roundhouse or two to some guy’s solar plexus. For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave out as much of the extraneous bullshit back-story as possible:
Scott James (Norris) is a martial arts master who no longer fights professionally because of some Dark Secret in his past. In an unrelated secret from the past, Scott was evidently born and raised in Japan by a presumably adoptive father. He has a long-estranged brother, Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita/Bronson Lee*), who haunts Scott in both voiceover—“I know the answer. Seikura, only you could create a ninja. You’re my brother.”—and the standard 80s visual flashback. (*Fun fact: Bronson Lee is also the star of Bronson Lee, Champion, an elusive film that begs its own Rental Rehab treatment.)
For reasons that were too boring to follow and certainly too stupid to repeat, Scott learns that Seikura, the nefarious Ying to Scott’s goody-goody Yang, is the mastermind behind a worldwide network of covert training camps. His base camp—a Martial Arts Pioneer Village of the Old West—churns out “terrorist” ninjas and mercenaries at a rate that suggests there might have been some growing American anxieties about the global rise in terrorism in the late 1970s.
Scott, in a series of escalatingly implausible events, is entreated to “come out of retirement” to stop Seikura and blah, blah, ninjas, something, something, terrorism, etc. etc. terrorist ninjas, you’re my only hope, and so on.
And in case you couldn’t guess it—Spoiler Alert!—Scott and Seikura are destined for a final showdown. And much like those slow-moving, dimly lit adult films of the late 70s, the final “group get-together,” if you will, leaves something to be desired.
But even if the top-billed Seikura/Scott match-up comes up a little short, there’s still plenty of hot martial arts action and late 70s/early 80s cheese to get you in the mood. So draw up a bubble bath, soap up that chest sweater and explore the 8th wonder of the world that is Chuck Norris.
8 Things To Love About the Octagon:
8 – The rather close friendship between Scott and fellow fighter A.J. The two enjoy such activities as attending the ballet together, fine dining and pretending to chase after skirts that they never really intend to get into. After the two suffer a lover’s quarrel platonic disagreement, Scott can’t get A.J. out of his head. “I’m proud of you A.J. I came to the expo to see you win. And now you resent me.”
7 – Seikura’s training camp is a veritable goldmine of campy visual gags. The ninja masters demonstrate their skills by slicing and dicing melons into fancy fruit salad. They wear full ninja regalia even when they sleep. Best of all, Seikura uses a trap-door to “teach lessons.” And you thought J. Walter Weatherman was good.
6 – In the course of Scott’s investigation into the proliferation of “terrorist ninjas,” he takes to the local newspaper, where he handily finds an ad for “Mercenary Soldier $$$$.” After a quick phone call and a “covert” expedition to the local community center (where he accidentally wanders into a square dance class), Scott enters a Lynchian nightmare room inhabited by a silent cowboy and a small man with beady eyes and a greasy comb-over. Mr. Beedy (no shit) asks Scott if he speaks “any slope or Aay-rab.” This pointedly non-P.C. exchange then ends with a midget speaking backward and telling Scott he looks like “the constipated type.”
5 – Chuck Norris’ blond chest sweater is like catnip to all the fine ladies.
Granted, the first date with the young ballet dancer isn’t entirely smooth sailing—she can’t stop talking about vomiting during dinner—but if she hadn’t been stabbed in the gut by ninjas when they went back to her place, he certainly would’ve scored.
And then there’s Justine, the fur-draped publishing heiress who never met a rejected James Bond one-liner she didn’t like; “I never cared about time, per se. Just timing.”
And finally, Aura, the feisty female mercenary and the only girl who literally gets to “take home the gold” (if you know what I mean).
4 – “Games open to all players.” – Scott
“Well, deal me in.” – A.J.
“Champagne might be a nice opening bet.” – Justine
All delivered with a straight face.
3 – A.J., whose idea of “sneaking” into a dangerous terrorist ninja compound—located in a valley—involves coming at it from a higher elevation, in broad daylight, through a field of arid brown grass, wearing a bright red jacket, with his Michael Landon bouffant bouncing in the breeze.
Jesus, man, these are ninjas you’ve been talking about, here. NINJAS. ninjas. NINJAS. ninjas.
2 – It’s true what they say about Chuck Norris. As Scott James, all he has to do is flick his wrist and “deadly” ninjas obligingly roll around on the ground and wait for him to re-group, move on or take his next shot. And with the simple drop of a name, everyone’s more than happy to divulge an entire monologue’s worth of privy information. With Chuck/Scott around, the world would be a safer, more black-and-white place. Who needs Gitmo, when you’ve got the power of the famous Chuck gaze? Why, I bet Scott could probably find a way to end the FUBAR that is the Gulf of Mexico. He’s that damn good.
1 – “I told you; they were ninja.” – Scott
“Talk about world-class killers. But, wait! They’ve been outlawed for over 300 years!.” – A.J.
Leave your threats about what Chuck Norris will do to me because I made fun of his lustrous blond man coat in the comments section below.
Rental Rehab review by Tricia