One can forgive director Robert Clouse if he went into Ironheart thinking that it was going to be anything other than a wormy turd the size of one of star Bolo Yeung’s pecs. Clouse had previously made a kung fu movie starring a guy named Lee which some have called the greatest of all time. The movie was Enter The Dragon and that particular Lee was of course Bruce. This time around Lee’s first name is Britton. As in not-so-great Britton.
Ironheart is Britton Lee’s only movie as far as we know, thus lending credence to the popular theory that Britton Lee was actually just a cardboard cut out with a mechanical voice. As LAPD Lt. John Keem, Britton gives a performance so non-existent the viewer cannot but help to appreciate the natural stiffness of a Sho Kosugi. Whatever you want to say about Sho, at least we know that somewhere under that veneer of can’t act is a human being. You know, because he had to two kids who also inherited their dad’s twin abilities to get movie roles and to not be any good in them.
I will say this though for Britton Lee, his cardboard self is pushed through an equally flimsy movie. At first glance, it sounds like another one of those perfect Americanized kung fu movies that are blessedly a dime a dozen. A tough cop finds out his partner is killed and it’s up to our tough cop to bust heads, snap necks, stab people, and blow stuff up until everyone who ever coughed on his dead best friend is having Satan ream them with the rusty end of a hot tailpipe. Once you dig down though, especially to all the night club scenes, it turns out that we’re the ones that will be tasting hellish exhaust when we belch!
On the very same day that John Keem is promoted to Lieutenant, he also finds out his ex-partner has been killed up in Portland! We learn in a 10 second flashback all about how Keem and this dead guy were buddies. The flashback is of his partner telling Keem while they’re outside a 7-11 that he’s gone and taken a job up in Portland. It’ll be good for the guy’s family you see. It’s is based on this single exchange that we were supposed to care about the petrified-faced Keem and his quest to solve this guy’s murder.
Even funnier though is that Keem is told that the guy must have put up a hell of a fight before he died. Sure, if you mean that he caused Bolo to break a sweat beating the guy senseless and then shooting him about ten times while the guy emitted a high-pitched womanly scream. Yeah, his dignity put up a hell of a fight. And lost.
Once in Portland (after warming up by stopping a gang rape taking place down at the river), Keem finds that his partner’s death may be connected to a bunch of missing girls. The most recent one disappeared from a night club. This immediately sinks the movie since it portends lots of shots of bad dancing to even worse dance songs. And just to make sure that Ironheart isn’t your usual cruddy dance-padded movie, it throws in a dance instructor from a dance school!
She’s a great foil for Keem because while he is so vacantly anonymous in his screen presence (I spent most of the movie wondering why he insisted in dressing in oversized sport coats that were always some color of cat barf) she is so freaking annoying that you get genuinely excited when she decides to go undercover as a “girl at the club who wants to get kidnapped.”
If she isn’t making you gag blathering that for her, it’s all about the dancing and not taking the easy way out and using your dancing abilities at the club to land a rich guy, then she’s telling you her life story about how the father of her kid ran out on her after he landed a spot in a chorus line after making sweet dancer monkey love to you! I’ll bet old John Keem was glad he was just a cardboard cut out when he was lying in bed listening to that drivel!
The movie becomes pretty much a diary of the inept bad guys trying to kill Keem while Keem is zeroing in on them through his awesome investigating skills. For instance, he pretends to be a drunk in order to gain access to the bad guy’s office tower. This leads to one of my favorite tricks these sorts of movies use where kung fu guys solve crimes. It’s the old “the incriminating documents giving you all the information you need to know to take down the bad guys is all right here in this handy dandy file” gag!
I’ve worked in a couple of offices in my time. Some with only one filing cabinet. With just stuff I’ve filed myself. And I still couldn’t find half the crap I was looking for! Yet, John Keem can enter a 50 story office building in the middle of the night he’s never been in before and not only locate the correct office, but go right to the filing cabinet with the goodies in it and pull it out immediately, glancing at it for three seconds, and know everything there is to know about the evil scheme he’s battling? That is some rowdy kung fu, my friend!
Bolo Yeung is apparently the only real selling point of Ironheart which doesn’t make any sense to me. Bolo is barely in it and the fight he has with Britton Lee is something that looks pretty bad even when you fast forward through it. I guess there’s some Bolo fans due to his work in numerous “real” kung fu movies, but I got tricked into picking up Ironheart because of Richard Norton!
Norton is the double barreled threat of post-apocalyptic fare like Equalizer 2000 and Future Hunters and action movies like Nautilus and Not Another Mistake. He’s totally wasted as the bad guy here though because the only action scene he has is when he’s running away from Keem who is chasing him with a sword! How humiliating! It’s like renting Secretariat out to give pony rides to fat rich kids at a birthday party!
When it finally concludes with a silly voice over from the dance instructor telling us how everything turned out, you’ll understand why this was the movie that ended the careers of both the star and director. Ironheart is an apt title since that’s what you’ll need to get through it.
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