Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Cutter

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999–2000
THE PAPER: 2003–2004
THE HUB: 2005–2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.

Running Time 1:32
Rated R
Directed by Bill Tannen
Stars Chuck Norris, Joanna Pacula, Daniel Bernhardt, Bernie Kopell
Originally published March 31, 2006

35 years after memorably fighting Bruce Lee in the Rome Colosseum in RETURN OF THE DRAGON, Chuck Norris is as famous now as he ever has been. Conan O’Brien’s LATE NIGHT jabs at Norris’ long-running WALKER, TEXAS RANGER TV series and the spoofy list of “Chuck Norris Facts” that have been making the Internet rounds (“When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.”) have pulled the chopsocky star back into the national spotlight, five years after WALKER left the airwaves. Taking advantage of the new buzz, which reveals Norris as a man with a sense of humor, Nu Image has released the first major Chuck Norris film in a decade.

THE CUTTER was filmed in Spokane, Washington with director Bill Tannen, with whom Norris worked on HERO AND THE TERROR, an unexceptional serial-killer thriller that came near the end of the star’s exclusive contract with Cannon in the 1980’s. “Unexceptional” also describes THE CUTTER, which may have been made with Norris’ middle-aged WALKER target audience in mind, since only a couple of cast members appear to be under the age of forty.

The intriguing opening finds Dirk (played by Daniel Bernhardt, a Swiss Van Damme-lookalike who starred in three BLOODSPORT sequels), an assassin and master of disguise, swooping down to an archeological dig in the Sinai, murdering all the treasure hunters and swiping the priceless Breastplate of Aaron right off a dusty mummy’s chest. The breastplate is encrusted with perfect gems that must be cut into smaller pieces for sale on the black market. Dirk takes the stolen artifact to Spokane, where he kidnaps Isaac Teller (Bernie Kopell, “Doc” from THE LOVE BOAT), an elderly diamond cutter and Auschwitz survivor, and forces the old man to work his craft on the spectacular gems. Isaac resists, giving his niece Elizabeth (Joanna Pacula, GORKY PARK) time to hire John Shepherd (Norris), a private detective who specializes in kidnap cases.

Writer Bruce Haskett’s plot doesn’t grow much from there, stringing together a few mildly effective chases and fight scenes between easy-to-follow clues and investigative techniques familiar to Walker’s family-friendly audience. Shepherd is, of course, a “lone wolf” who doesn’t bow to authority, represented in THE CUTTER by Parks, an officious FBI agent played by Nu Image regular Todd Jensen. Marshall Teague, who played the heavy in both the first and last WALKER episodes, and LOIS & CLARK’s Tracy Scoggins (still shapely in her fifties) are friendly Spokane cops. Handsome Dean Cochran, the star of Nu Image’s SHARK ZONE and AIR MARSHAL, provides some light as a comic-relief lawyer. Executive producer Aaron Norris (Chuck’s brother) is a hitman. 80-year-old German character actor Curt Lowens (WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY) is a welcome sight. Lowens specialized in playing Nazis, and he does so again in THE CUTTER, adding dramatic weight to an otherwise unassuming action picture as Colonel Speerman, the officer who murdered Isaac’s family in Auschwitz and is the brains behind the current caper.

Chuck Norris was 65 when he shot THE CUTTER, and it’s to his disadvantage that he worked so hard in an unsuccessful attempt to look younger. Sporting a strangely colored hairpiece and what appears to be a surgically enhanced face, Norris now has looks to match his typically unnatural acting performance. It’s odd that he has not improved as an actor over the last three decades—one would think that doing anything everyday for thirty years would make you better at it—but his martial arts skills have also, understandably, deteriorated over time. Even with son Eric Norris, THE CUTTER’s stunt coordinator, looking out for the star’s best interests, it’s obvious that Chuck is being heavily doubled in the fight sequences.

With his looks, action skills, and acting ability fading, what’s next for Chuck Norris? I hate to say it, but if THE CUTTER is an indication of what Norris fans can expect, perhaps he should stop now. Not that THE CUTTER is awful—Tannen’s hackneyed direction does Barkett’s routine script no favors, but the movie is no worse than a typical WALKER episode. It certainly espouses WALKER’s (and Norris’) core American values of right over wrong. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but never out of style.

NOTE: The MPAA, in its infinite idiocy, has granted THE CUTTER an R rating for “violence.” This is a ridiculous decision with absolutely no merit. THE CUTTER is devoid of sex, nudity and gore and features very mild profanity and action scenes that could air uncut on network television. It’s a helluva lot less violent than many PG-13 movies, and is a perfect example of the influence that the major studios hold over the MPAA ratings board.

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