Cannontober #4 Hellbound
For the fourth entry in Cannontober, the poorly thought out, ill-considered, non-commercial project where I write about all ten films in the big Cannon box set that came out alongside Electric Boogaloo, the documentary about Cannon’s rise and fall, I decided to do something a little different.
Oh, I’m still writing about one of Cannon’s “Two Chucks”, Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris. And I’m still writing about a motion picture in which Chuck Norris scowls and wears denim while killing people in insultingly unimaginative ways. But in my bid to make things interesting for myself as well as readers, I have skipped ahead to the very end of Cannon’s run with 1994’s Hellbound, the very final Cannon movie ever and one that carries the iconic b-movie factory’s proud tradition of unapologetic, unabashed trash to the very end.
I got a little misty when I saw the name of Yoram Globus, the business mind of Cannon, but not his wildly creative cousin and partner Menahem Golan, particularly since Cannon’s last film brings it back to where it all began for these two cousins with the wild, hustling, entrepreneurial energy and bottomless supply of crazy, bad, great ideas: Israel.
But before you’re seduced by intoxicating images of an Orthodox Jewish Chuck Norris praying at the Wailing Wall, I should probably warn you that he’s in Israel to solve the murder of a prominent Rabbi and not for religious reasons. And though there are the requisite culture clash jokes, Chuck doesn’t so much as enjoy a nice bagel with lox and cream cheese. It’s meshuggenah, the missed opportunities here! No “Hava Negila”, no dancing the Hora, no haggling with merchants: why bother setting the movie in Israel at all?
But before we can get to Hellbound proper, we first must talk about the opening crawl.
The fucking crawl!
That’s right, Hellbound has got an opening crawl. A crawl as in, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....” As in, a fucking Star Wars crawl. Here’s the deal: if you’re a Chuck Norris movie, you don’t get a fucking opening crawl. Never. Nothing you can possibly be doing would merit a fucking opening crawl. You’re movies for little boys about an emotionless dude kicking people. You’re not The Lord of the Rings. Nobody has ever gotten deeply immersed in the mythology of a Chuck Norris movie. I would wager that that literally never happened yet Hellbound opens with the following opening crawl all the same:
The legend says, when time began, the soul of darkness was thrust into the depths. Its evil split from the light of humanity to be called forth in times of weakness and despair. Satan’s emissary, Prostanos, would prowl the earth searing all before him with fire and blood.
From the West a shining knight, beneath the banner of the lion, would come to vanquish and bind him until the chains and Holly seals were broken by simple, greedy, driven men.
Incidentally, “Movies for, by and about simple, greedy, driven men!” was Cannon’s first slogan.
The Phantom Menace was arguably the most anticipated movie of all time, and it barely merited an opening crawl. Hellbound sure as shit does not. It barely merits opening credits, let alone an opening scroll. If I was involved in the making of Hellbound, I wouldn’t want to publicly advertise that fact, and I am a proud Juggalo.
The opening crawl is followed, preposterously, by a goddamn prologue set in medieval times. Needless to say, this is also ridiculous. If you’re a goddamn Chuck Norris movie whose only real distinction is, I dunno, maybe he’s fighting a demon this time, you don’t get an opening crawl and then a prologue that takes place in long-ago times and helps flesh out the horse shit mythology clumsily mapped out in the opening scroll.
Yet Hellbound has an opening prologue that takes place in 1138 A.D and documents, with renaissance fair-level craft and production values, how White Knights of Christendom defeated a demon what goes by the name of Prostanos who’s like a very poor man’s Vigo from Ghostbusters.
We then skip ahead to the present, to a fever-dream Chicago that sure doesn’t look or feel anything like the one that was my home for decades. Chuck Norris is Sergeant Shatter (a pretty good wrestling and/or male stripper name, incidentally), a tough cop who plays by his own rules and patrols the mean streets doing an eternal good-cop, bad-cop with his African-American partner and sidekick Detective Calvin Johnson (Calvin Levels).
Hellbound was sold as a Chuck Norris movie with a supernatural, gothic twist but it’s really more of a 1980s-style buddy comedy that is way too impressed by two of its weakest elements: Norris and Levels’ non-existent chemistry and the comedy stylings of Levels, which recall less Hollywood Shuffle than the movies it was mocking. Chuck’s non-Jonathan Brandis sidekick is on hand to say things like “Either this guy’s nuttier than a Snickers, or there’s some really heavy shit going on!” and use the phrase “Sucka” non-ironically.
He’s a poor man’s Meshach Taylor but Hellbound seems to think they’ve got Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours and all they need to do it put the camera on this maniac and let him riff and hilarity will ensue. Instead, I found myself desperately pining for the cliche in buddy movies like this where the wisecracking sidekick is coldly assassinated by the bad guy, or at least shot repeatedly at close range in a very painful and destructive, if ultimately non-fatal fashion, in order to raise the stakes for the hero and spur him towards righteous vengeance. Alas, that moment never happens (why would it, with Levels uttering comic gold every time he opens his mouth?!?) as, his character tragically never dies.
Using a combination of trickery, manipulation and bullying, Sergeant Shatter lures his reluctant and extremely hungry partner to Israel to investigate the murder of a Rabbi who had his heart ripped out by the evil demon Prostanos in a sleazy hotel room. These tough Chicago cops are sternly informed they are not to practice their trade but that doesn’t keep Shatter from hunting down a murder with supernatural origins.
This calls upon Chuck Norris to do things other than kill people, threaten to kill people, or get ready to kill people. That is a terrible mistake. The first two Chuck Norris movies I wrote about for this column, Missing in Action and Invasion USA, both played to Norris' strengths by never asking him to do anything other commit grievous bodily harm against his fellow human beings.
Norris spent the majority of both these earlier movies straight up murdering motherfuckers with his fists and feet and machine guns and rocket launchers. That is how God wants it to be. That’s Chuck’s strength: he’s an emotionless killing machine in blue denim, a dead-eyed mass murderer. That’s what we love, or at least reluctantly kind of respect, about him.
In Hellbound, Norris spends most of his time not killing anybody. He’s not even injuring anybody in most of his scenes. No, he’s too busy solving mysteries and asking questions and participating in one of action cinema’s saddest ever comic double acts with Levels.
I had hoped that the supernatural nature of the movie’s villain would give it a funky, very Cannon element of novelty, but having an effete, undead demon for a bad guy instead of, say, a drug kingpin or an arms dealer, doesn’t really change things much, although I do appreciate the shamelessness of bringing in a plucky Israeli pickpocket orphan to serve as a secondary sidekick to Shatter and play shamelessly to audience’s affection for adorable moppets in danger.
Hellbound was directed by Aaron Norris, who is as bad a filmmaker as his brother is an actor. Hellbound is so unconvincing on every level, that when it tries to establish its Chicago bona fides by having Jackson constantly talk about the Chicago Bulls being in the Championship, I began to doubt that these “Chicago Bulls” ever even existed, or whether they’re just another bad creation of the film. And the Bulls are my favorite basketball team! I have no idea what could have possibly driven Chuck to want to work with Aaron, and vice versa, but you’d have to go back to the films of Bo and John Derek, or the Twitter account of Donald Trump Jr., to see such a convincing argument against nepotism.
Since Hellbound represents the end of the road for Cannon, ending the studio’s screamingly loud life with a whisper of a b-movie, it seems worth noting its final shot. In a running gag that runs the gamut from eye-roll-inducingly lame to legitimately angry-making in its awfulness, the pick-pocket Israeli child thief Chuck takes a shine to keeps stealing his sidekick’s wallet.
Hellbound ends on this note, with a freeze frame of Chuck's adult sidekick realizing his wallet has been stolen (after a smirking and far-too-amused Chuck informs him of this fact) and the larcenous moppet streaking away. It somehow feels weirdly perfect for the exquisitely, deliciously Rando existence of Cannon to end on such a bizarre note, not with action or heroism but with the limp pay-off of a subplot involving two wacky comic-relief characters from a lesser Chuck Norris movie. But if Hellbound is trash it’s lovable, distinctive trash in the best/worst Cannon tradition, a tradition it ended on an inauspicious but appropriately shitty note.
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