last twenty minutes of The Octagon are amongst
the most impressive you’ll find in a martial arts movie.
A heady mix of astonishing fight sequences, non-stop action, genuine
tension and moody visuals, you watch and immediately understand
how ninjas went from an obscure Japanese myth to become the dominant
action movie bad guys throughout the 1980s, all thanks to this
The problem is that in order to reach this sequence, you have
to wade through about 80 minutes of often incoherent plotting,
performed by some of the worst actors you’ll ever see. Seriously
– when Chuck Norris is the best performer in a film, you
know you’re in trouble. But that’s the case here –
even the usually reliable Lee Van Cleef sleepwalks through a non-role.
Norris plays Sam James, ex martial arts champion haunted by memories
that are never fully developed, despite a continual inner monologue
that sounds more like the sinister whispering of a giallo villain
than the thoughts of a movie hero. When a dancer he has picked
up is killed by ninjas – long thought as extinct as the
Dodo – he finds himself drawn into a mystery that involves
hired killers, right-wing extremists, terrorist training camps
and a wealthy heiress (Karen Carlson) who is determined to bring
him back into his old life through a combination of clumsy seduction
and the worst dialogue delivery I’ve ever seen.
Norris spends most of the film looking confused, and with good
reason, as the story makes very little sense, and the characters
are too one-dimensional and under-developed to draw you in. Lots
of things happen, but it doesn’t really hang together, and
character motivation is vague to say the least. You get the impression
that there was a long back-story for everyone in the writer’s
head that wasn’t shared with anyone else.
Te resulting film is a bit of a mess, frankly. That final act
is worth sticking around for – or perhaps skipping ahead
to – and goes a long way to salvaging the movie. But on
the whole, this is pretty ham-fisted stuff.
The new Blu-ray, however, does its best to make this is worthwhile
package, with a thorough ‘making-of’ retrospective
and director commentary. Whether that’s enough to tip the
balance I’ll leave up to you.
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