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Good Guys Wear Black

HBO // PG // January 30, 2001
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 3, 2002 | E-mail the Author
When I opened my mailbox and spotted this DVD release of 1978's Good Guys Wear Black staring me squarely in the face, long-forgotten memories from my childhood came flooding back, bowling me over with a wave of nostalgia. Well, not really. I do vaguely recall pestering my mother to fish out a Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos action figure from a discount bin at a Kroger's supermarket when I was eight or so, and one of my cousins was utterly obsessed with the Delta Force series. Mulling it over, I'm positive I saw Sidekicks theatrically ten years ago. I'll reluctantly even admit to watching Walker: Texas Ranger more than a couple of times, shamefully including the episode where Cordell used a jetpack to infiltrate a criminal stronghold or something. I suppose Chuck Norris had a far greater influence on my life and development than I was consciously aware. Good Guys Wear Black is the first of Norris' movies I've seen in nearly a decade, almost immediately reminding me of...well, essentially every other movie he ever made and why I've managed to steer clear of Top Dog and Invasion U.S.A. for such a lengthy period of time.

In Good Guys Wear Black, Norris receives top billing for the third time, following Slaughter In San Francisco and Breaker! Breaker!, as John T. Booker. With a name like that, you might expect him to front a local jazz quartet, but Booker's résumé is a bit more explosive. After leading a CIA assault team mirthfully dubbed the Black Tigers (they're the good guys, and, well, you know...) in the Vietnam War to rescue a group of POWs, Booker and company find themselves the victims of a set-up from some unknown source. Years pass, and Booker has settled down a tad, putting Porsches through their paces and teaching some course that's laughably outside his realm of expertise. All seems fine until Anne Archer pops up as Margaret, Norris' first leading lady, a cryptic young woman boasting more than a passing familiarity with the doomed mission in 'Nam. There is, of course, a high-ranking government conspiracy, and the remaining Tigers are being picked off one by one. Booker, Mags, and a CIA buddy threaten to expose the underbelly of corruption, all the while trying not to die and stuff.

Good Guys Wear Black was Chuck Norris' first bonafide hit, taking in over $18 million at the box office domestically and establishing him as an action star. It also set up the skeleton of the plot that would be mindlessly rehashed for nearly every film he'd make throughout the course of the next ten years. That $18 million figure might not sound like spectacular considering the nine-figure gross of so many releases nowadays, but that was a solid take back in '78, particularly considering Good Guys Wear Black's near-Troma level budget. Not since The Battle Of Love's Return have such unmistakably American settings been used to stand in for exotic war-torn locales. The acting is unbearable, not a surprise for those who have followed Norris' career. We are treated a cameo by Thurston Howell III himself, Jim Backus, as a condominium doorman. The lovely Anne Archer has a name that is terribly familiar, but her face didn't ring any bells, and I don't believe I've seen any of the number of movies or TV shows in which she's appeared. Hmmm. It's safe to say that Good Guys Wear Black is among the most insufferably dull action movies ever produced, consisting of just a couple of fight scenes, most of which are separated by horrendously long stretches ostensibly intended to advance the plot. Norris, in case you weren't aware, is well-acquainted with the martial arts, preferring to kick his enemies (all three of them!) even when he has a machine gun in tow. The opening battle sequence is so incoherent and poorly choreographed that it comes as little surprise that the Black Tigers were so easily beaten. It's so ineptly done, in fact, that I wasn't aware that Norris' team lost until it was spelled out for me. Forty minutes or so pass from that battle to anything else approximating action, and then there's another lengthy delay. There is, of course, the obligatory love scene, political intrigue minus the "intrigue", pompous power-brokers...everything you've come to expect from Chuck Norris' innumerable remakes of this movie. Any one of those following entries would make for a more worthwhile purchase than this lifeless, uninspired movie and its equally disappointing DVD.

Video: Good Guys Wear Black is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1. The quality of the video ranges from "indifferent shrug" to "yikes!", generally settling somewhere comfortably in between. The source material isn't in the most pristine of shape, exhibiting a fair amount of scattered dust and specks, as well as a few nicks, rips, tears, and what appears to be water damage (several times, most noticeably rearing its head around the 28 minute mark). The typically flat, earthy '70s palette is as dull as the film itself, though in some scenes, such as the skiing sequence, colors appear to be amped up a little too much. Chuck Norris' face looks orange there, and the bright blues and assorted colors of the heavy jackets almost seemed to bloom. The combination of poor shadow detail and weak contrast renders ore dimly-lit portions -- particularly the Black Tigers' assault in Vietnam -- entirely indistinguishable. The requisite amount of grain is present periodically, and sharpness is inconsistent. At times, I can almost imagine a 16mm print buried under a stack of back issues of The New Yorker being unearthed for this transfer. It's passable for such a cheap disc, I guess, and Good Guys Wear Black almost certainly wasn't a stunner theatrically.

Audio: The mono audio doesn't fare any better than the quality of the video. Dialogue, perhaps due to an inept soundman working the wheels on-set, is generally muddled and sometimes difficult to understand. Foley work and looped lines rarely sync up to what's on-screen, and explosions and assorted effects lack any real clarity or the sort of punch one should expect from what the studio blurb states is a "martial arts classic". On the upside, composer Craig Safan, fresh off The Great Texas Dynamite Chase and The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training, contributes a hysterical outdated score, riddled with every '70s drive-in porn cliché in the book. There are a variety of subtitles for anyone who's interested.

Supplements: Nothing but cast/crew bios.

Conclusion: Apparently intended as nothing more than discount bin filler, little time or effort appears to have been invested into giving Good Guys Wear Black a moderately respectable presentation on DVD. Even more mediocre is the hopelessly generic movie itself. Good Guys Wear Black doesn't warrant its bargain basement list price of $15, even for the most staunch fans of Chuck Norris' brand of pacifist action flicks.
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