With "Hero and the Terror" (citywide) Chuck Norris makes his most determined effort yet to balance his martial arts displays with serious acting. On a modest level Norris succeeds, only to be tripped up by an underdeveloped script.
Norris plays O'Brien, a crack L.A. cop whose lover, Kay (Brynn Thayer), is a psychiatrist who has treated him for recurring nightmares in the wake of a near-fatal encounter with Simon Moon (Jack O'Halloran), a huge, Neanderthal-like serial killer. O'Brien did get his man, but now three years later Moon escapes from prison.
Writer Michael Blodgett, who adapted his novel with Dennis Shryack, has called this film " 'The Phantom of the Opera' of the 80s," but that's a considerable overstatement. There is no pathos in the blank, robot-like Moon who holes up in the bowels of the restored Wiltern Theatre to start a new collection of female corpses. Moon is merely a deadly force that must be stopped.
O'Brien's romance with the very pregnant Kay receives almost equal time with his pursuit of Moon. Perhaps wisely, Norris reacts more than acts in his scenes with Thayer, a wholesome type whose Kay is a successful career woman apprehensive about becoming a mother at 36 and settling down to married life. Norris' O'Brien not surprisingly is a man of few words, but he does convey considerable gentleness and devotion.
Resourceful director William Tannen and cinematographer Eric van Haren Noman make the most of the Wiltern's photogenic Art Deco splendor and its underground maze and vast, eerie open space above the auditorium and lobby ceilings. "Hero and the Terror" is a sleek, well-designed film, but Tannen and Noman's efforts in creating an ominous, dramatic atmosphere are undercut by a bad glitch in the script. Why isn't the Wiltern searched exhaustively immediately when two women disappear there--especially when we learn that on his first rampage Moon killed 22 women and inspired 12 copy-cat murders? So much time has passed by the time O'Brien commences the detailed search that he and the entire Police Department are made to seem awfully slow on the uptake.
Then there's the problem of O'Brien's character. He is a man regarded as a hero for having captured Moon the first time around, but O'Brien repeatedly rejects the label. Yet this is a man who storms the Wiltern single-handedly, not waiting for his back-up team to arrive. Had Norris explored this contradiction within O'Brien, "Hero and the Terror" (MPAA-rated R for violence) might have had a chance to rise above the routine.
'HERO AND THE TERROR'
A Cannon presentation. Executive producers Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus. Producer Raymond Wagner. Director William Tannen. Screenplay Dennis Shryack, Michael Blodgett; based on Blodgett's novel. Camera Eric van Haren Noman. Music David Frank. Production designer Holger Gross. Associate producer John Zane. Stunt coordinator Jon Epstein. Fight choreographer Rick Prieto. Film editor Christian Adam Wagner. With Chuck Norris, Brynn Thayer, Steve James, Jack O'Halloran, Jeffrey Kramer, Ron O'Neal, Murphy Dunne, Heather Blodgett, Tony DiBenedetto, Billy Drago, Joe Guzaldo.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
MPAA-rated: R (younger than 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).