That name ring a bell?
No? Okay, how about these names:
The French Connection.
High Plains Drifter.
Ernest Tidyman wrote all three of those screenplays (and won the Oscar for French Connection). He also wrote the Shaft book series as well as several other novels before his death in 1984.
Based on that pedigree, and the fact that High Plains Drifter is one of my all-time favorites, I searched for more films written by Tidyman. Unfortunately, he had a rather limited screenwriting career, and only a fraction of his films are available for home viewing.
Still, one of Tidyman’s credits sticks out in his filmography, compared to the classics mentioned earlier. Of all things, it’s a Chuck Norris movie: 1979’s A Force of One.
Santa Monica, California: It’s Christmastime, and someone is killing narcotics detectives by using martial arts. Stumped, the Santa Monica police enlist the help of champion kickboxer, martial arts instructor, and Vietnam vet Matt Logan (Chuck Norris) – who helps train the detectives in martial arts and offers some insight to help determine potential suspects behind the killings.
In A Force of One’s DVD extras, director Paul Aaron says he did an uncredited rewrite of the script to make it “fit Chuck more” (never once mentioning Tidyman by name). That explains a lot, since I can’t imagine Tidyman was the author behind such a lackluster film.
The dialogue is forgettable and by-the-numbers, accompanied by a plot, cinematography, and soundtrack that make the film feel like a glorified episode of any given cop or detective drama from the ‘70s. Some of the scenes even seem ad-libbed, and not in a good way.
In addition to the weak script, there’s substandard acting by nearly everyone involved – including Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron “Superfly” O’Neal, and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.
Sadly and perhaps ironically for a Chuck Norris film, the martial arts sequences are sparse. Scenes of Norris handing out ass-whoopings outside of training and kickboxing matches are limited – which leaves him lots of time to dole out dialogue in his trademark monotone delivery. The action sequences that do take place are dated and bland, with many of the martial arts fights shot in slo-mo, accompanied by cheesy sound effects.
I’m hoping that A Force of One was either a quick paycheck movie for Tidyman to help him pursue other (read: better) creative endeavors, or that Aaron’s rewrite eliminated nearly all of Tidyman’s dialogue. Because what’s left is a ponderous, underwhelming film.
* Tidyman is one of the few white people to win an NAACP Image Award, an honor given to him for creating the Shaft books.
* Norris’ opponent for his big fight in the finale, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, was also John Belushi’s bodyguard. It was Wallace who found Belushi dead from a drug overdose.
Is it suitable for your kids?A Force of One is rated PG. It features several bloodless killings, mostly by the breaking of necks. There are scenes of drug dealing and drug use, including men snorting cocaine and a girl with track marks on her arm. There are also a few mild profanities.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?Highly doubtful. And even if she is a Chuck Norris fan, he’s made much better films than this (comparatively speaking).
A Force of One
* Director: Paul Aaron
* Screenwriter: Ernest Tidyman
* Stars: Chuck Norris, Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron O’Neal, Bill Wallace
* MPAA Rating: PG
Buy A Force of One from Half.com >>
Rent A Force of One from Netflix >>