Director: Michael Winner
Sophia Loren, James Coburn, O.J. Simpson

Even if you are not as well educated about the film industry in Hollywood as I am, more likely than not you have come to the conclusion that to get into the Hollywood film industry is far from easy. And you would be right. It is incredibly hard, even if you've had success connecting with motion pictures outside of Hollywood. One such person who found this out was Canadian movie producer Harold Greenberg. You probably haven't heard of him even if you are Canadian. But in his career, he produced movies like Porky's, Breaking Point, Rituals, City On Fire, Death Ship, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, and Terror Train. In other words, unlike most other Canadian movie producers, he concentrated on making real movies instead of boring and pretentious arty crap no one wants to see. He had considerable success going down that route; many of his movies not only got picked up by multiple distributors outside of North America, but also by substantial-sized Hollywood distributors for distribution in The United States. And he made a lot of money from these world wide sales, some of which after his death started The Harold Greenberg Fund, which today provides funding to various Canadian movies (almost all of which, sadly, aren't real movies.) Anyway, despite this success, there was a part of him that was unsatisfied; Greenberg wanted somehow to get directly in the Hollywood machine. One day, Greenberg thought he had his chance. He had read in the trade papers about a Hollywood production company that was going to make a motion picture that sounded quite prestigious. Seeing opportunity, Greenberg immediately sent a message to the Hollywood production company. Greenberg in his message told the production company that he had heard of this movie that they intended to make and he wanted to be a part of it, telling them that he was more than willing to open his checkbook (or "chequebook", if you are Canadian) to make sure that the movie would get made.

You are probably wondering how the Hollywood production company reacted to Greenberg's message, and if they sent him a response. Well, they did, and the reply was, "Harold, we love you, but we don't need your goshdarned money." (I cleaned up one of those words in that response in respect to the millions of sensitive Christian readers who visit this web site.) I think this true story really illustrates the difficulties outsiders face when trying to get into the Hollywood machine. The question that is then raised is what can outsiders do about this? The answer a lot of the time is to do things by yourself in your way. For example, take producer Roger Corman. He decided early on to stay independent and make movies his own way. Corman became so successful at this that eventually the big Hollywood studios came knocking at his door to hire him to produce and/or direct movies for them. Then there was the case of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They decided to set up their own shop in the middle of Hollywood and make movies their own way. Their strategy worked at first, but due in a large part to the fact that they wasted a lot of money, and also that most of their movies were schlock at heart, audiences stopped coming, and eventually the two were finished in Hollywood. Then there was the case of Lew Grade. An Englishman who started off as a dancer, then moved to becoming a talent agent, Grade eventually became a successful television producer, making big money selling television shows to America. With the money earned from this, Grade slowly started to make theatrical movies such as The Return Of The Pink Panther, which were picked up by Hollywood studios for distribution in America. But Grade was unsatisfied by how the Hollywood studios were treating his movies - maybe because he was an outsider. So Grade and some other partners decided to make their own Hollywood distributor to handle their movies in America, and it was called Associated Film Distribution.

From 1977 to 1982, Grade (credited as the "presenter" in the opening credits), would "present" (and also sometimes actually produce) a substantial number of movies. But if he thought that he could rival the best Hollywood studios, he was sadly mistaken. As it turned out, only one of these Firepowermovies - The Muppet Movie - did well enough to be considered a true hit at the box office. The reason for this was pretty clear - the majority of the movies that Grade was churning out simply weren't good at all, like Saturn 3, The Legend Of The Lone Ranger, and Raise The Titanic. The bad quality of most of Grade's movies got film critic Roger Ebert to comment at one point that Grade should randomly give money to various filmmakers, since the results couldn't be any worse. Eventually, the box office failures, as well as some other misfortunes, pretty much stopped Grade from producing or presenting any more theatrical movies before his death in 1998. Quite a story, so you may understand why I felt I should review at least one Lew Grade presentation besides The Last Unicorn for this web site. I picked Firepower, mainly because its cast interested me. Sophia Loren (Grumpier Old Men) plays Adele Tasca, a woman whose husband is killed as he is preparing to deliver evidence to the authorities that millionaire Karl Stegner (George Touliatos, Prom Night) manufactured product through his drug company that caused cancer. She suspects Stegner was behind the assassination, but the authorities, lead by agent Frank Hull (Vincent Gardenia, Cold Turkey), tell her that their hands are tied because Stegner is out of the country. Wanting Stegner to be captured from his overseas home and brought stateside for justice, Adele arranges contact with her old flame Jerry Fanon (Coburn, Crossover), who was formerly a mercenary. Jerry agrees to help Adele out, along the way getting his associate Catlett (Simpson, The Klansman) to come assist him.

I feel I should mention that the cast also includes notable names like Eli Wallach (Don't Turn The Other Cheek!), Anthony Franciosa (Death Wish II), ex-boxer Jake LaMotta, and Victor Mature (Head). And to top it off, Billy Barty (Night Patrol) also shows up. You certainly don't come across a cast like that every day, especially in movies more modern than this one. Anyway, I don't think I can comment on all the actors and characters, so I'll mainly stick to the major figures. The first and more notable performers I will look at are headliners Sophia Loren and James Coburn. By their performances here, it's hard to believe one of them won an Oscar years earlier, and the other won one years later. Loren is pretty stiff here, trying very hard to act cool and confident, but instead coming across as cold and mechanical. As for Coburn, his only real effort comes from flashing his trademark pearly white teeth a few times; other that that, he really just seems to be going through the motions. It should come as no surprise that when both the actors are paired together in a scene, they generate absolutely no chemistry of any kind, which may be one reason why their eventual love scene happens completely off camera. (But can you picture beauty Loren and the creaky and aging Coburn in bed together without getting queasy?) For viewers who may have some morbid curiosity about O.J. Simpson's contributions, his performance is pretty all over the map, and never in a particularly good way. Sometimes he has a gee-whiz attitude, sometimes he seems to be in a grumpy mood, but for the most part he just seems to be playing himself and not adding any real color to make his character stand out in a convincing and positive manner.

As for the other players in Firepower, the only standout is Wallach. Although Wallach is only in the movie for a few minutes in total, he manages to give his character some color with his performance so that he holds the audience's interest in his scenes despite being extremely underwritten. As it turns out, all the characters in the movie are really underwritten, which may in part explain the poor performances. We learn very little about their pasts or connections with each other, so it's really difficult to care one way or another about them. For example, Loren's character hardly says a word in the movie's first minute or two before her husband is assassinated, so we don't know what she was like before becoming a widow. And it takes a while subsequently for us to get a good idea of who is who (not just with Loren's character) and what they want, leaving the audience until then quite bewildered, especially with an early twist (which I will not reveal) about Coburn's character. Though strangely after this point, the movie soon becomes quite overwritten. There are endless scenes of dialogue between characters that provide little to absolutely no purpose except maybe just to pad out the running time. Needless to say, all this talk makes the movie move at an absolutely slow crawl (if any movement at all), and had me internally moaning quite a few times, "Oh, just shut up and give me some action or movement!" To be fair, director (and story writer) Michael Winner (Bullseye!) does occasionally give the backdrop a nice look during the gabfest doldrums, which prevents the audience from falling asleep. Most of the movie takes place in the Caribbean, and was actually filmed there in towns and the countryside of Antigua, Curacao, and other locations. Winner manages to present these locations in a manner that often looks pretty fresh and interesting, so we keep watching despite being mostly bored.

Other than the Caribbean backdrop, Winner's handling of things on Firepower are more of a miss than anything that could be considered positive. To be fair to him again, he seems to have had some budgetary limitation here and there, like a laboratory that looks like an aging high school from the outside (and even worse inside.) Also, Winner might not have had power to do anything about the imposed LOUD and gawd-awful saxophone-heavy musical score by Gato Barbieri (Last Tango In Paris). And I will admit that the movie has a generally gritty feeling that is more welcome than a polished and antiseptic feeling another director might have put in. But he can be easily blamed for the fact that the movie isn't very exciting at all. As mentioned before, the story is slow-moving, and Winner clearly wasn't able to encourage his once in a lifetime cast to put some life into saying their insipid dialogue. Also, as you may have guessed, there happens to be very little excuse to put some action sequences to liven things up. I believe I could count on one hand the number of action sequences there are in the 103-minute running time. But are the action sequences worth the wait? No, not really. They manage to only be routine at their best, and even the better action moments are sometimes ruined by Winner's inept staging. When one car flips over during a mediocre car chase, we can see the small ramp the car drove on, and Coburn's stunt double in the earlier bulldozer sequence is painfully obvious. Firepower promises to be an action-packed exercise with a lot of heat, but the only heat it will raise is with viewers who get into a fury about the movie not delivering in practically any way of real substance at all. The movie as a whole could be considered a failing Grade.

(Posted April 24, 2022)

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See also: Code Name: Wild Geese, Force 10 From Navarone, The Klansman