Friday, April 24, 2020

Firepower (1979)

FIREPOWER is a deliriously silly international thriller with an affecting cast of middle-aged movie stars and one of the most absurdly convoluted storylines I’ve ever attempted to decode. At one point, when director Michael Winner (DEATH WISH) and screenwriter Gerald Wilson (THE STONE KILLER) get trapped in a corner, they reach into their rear ends and pull out an exact double of James Coburn’s character, who is never seen or heard from again.

If nothing else, Winner knows how to grab an audience’s interest. Before the main titles have started to unspool, Winner kills off a chemist, the husband of Sophia Loren’s Adele Tasca, in an explosion and then guns down the chemist’s brother and a bunch of hoods at the funeral parlor. It’s an effective formula that works for Winner. When the plot starts to get confusing, blow up something or kill a bunch of guys to wake everybody up.

Adele believes the man responsible for her husband’s murder is the mysterious Karl Stegner, a wealthy recluse in Antigua who’s wanted by American authorities, but can’t be extradited, and nobody knows what the hell he looks like anyway. The Feds, with FBI agent Frank Hull (Vincent Gardenia) in charge, want flower-loving merc Jerry Fanon (Coburn) to go get Stegner, so they bribe retired mobster Sal Hyman (Eli Wallach) to convince Fanon to do the job. See what I mean about convoluted? Why couldn’t Hull just ask Fanon directly? Probably because Sir Lew Grade at ITC wanted to squeeze another star, Wallach, into the production somewhere.

Fanon takes along heist man Catlett (O.J. Simpson) as backup. Neither seems to be the brains of the outfit, as their plan involves setting Stegner’s house on fire and then running inside the abandoned blaze to find clues. The piling on of twists over doublecrosses grows silly after awhile, but FIREPOWER is always watchable for its star power and its harrowing stunt sequences involving airplanes, helicopters, automobiles, boats, bulldozers, whatever it takes. Trying to follow the plot is more effort than it’s worth.