It’s only through the benefit of distance that we’re allowed to see what a nutty time the late ’80s were when it comes to movies. How else to explain the collision of incompatible elements that make up the curiosity piece known as Blind Fury?

An updating of the Zaitoichi blind swordsman films from Japan, Blind Fury stars the ever-watchable Rutger Hauer as Nick Parker. In an opening sequence, we find Nick, an American soldier in Vietnam, blinded by an injury, wandering through the jungle. Taken in by some friendly locals, through the miracle of the montage, Nick is nursed to health and taught to become a great swordsman, despite his loss of sight. The movie then jumps ahead twenty years to find Nick searching Miami for his best friend from the war, Frank (Terrance O’Quinn — better known as Terry O’Quinn from Lost). When Nick finds Frank’s home, he learns from his ex-wife, Lynn (Meg Foster wasting her creepy presence in a thankless role), that Frank has moved to Reno. No sooner does this information come out than a vicious hitman (Randall “Tex” Cobb) shows up, tries to kidnap Frank’s preteen son, Billy (Brandon Call), and kills Lynn. Nick is able to fight him off before any harm can come to Billy. On the run, trying to reach Frank in Reno, Nick tries to piece together what is happening while dealing with the sullen, often angry, Billy. But little does he realize that every step closer he takes to finding Frank is a step closer to danger.

Blind Fury is a very silly movie. It’s obvious that Hauer realizes this because he plays every scene as though he were a Dutch Jackie Chan, mugging for the camera with exaggerated facial expressions and clumsy attempts at physical comedy. At times, director Philip Noyce acknowledges the ridiculousness at play, pitching many of the supporting performances at an over-the-top level and playing up the melodramatic elements to a satirical level. But at other times, it feels as though he wants the film to be taken seriously — the opening murder of Lynn is quite harsh.

It’s this inability by Noyce to fully commit to essentially spoofing his own movie that keeps it from being a fun cult classic. He has gathered a very capable cast of character actors who can deliver this kind of silliness with just the right winking attitude to make the corny humor and melodrama go down smoothly without distracting from the action scenes which are played fairly straight. But he only takes the film to the edge of ridiculousness before pulling back into “safer” territory. It feels as though he underestimates the audience for this type of film, worried that if he mocks the genre too much, it will come off as elitist. He shouldn’t worry about such things because no one watches a film like Blind Fury for the characterization or an intriguing plot — they watch it see a giant, charismatic Dutch actor try to play a blind American war veteran who lops off hands and cuts bad guys in two with a cool sword hidden in his cane. That’s the movie I want to see and that’s the movie that Noyce only half delivers.

There is fun to be had with the film. The climax is a nonstop train of low-budget mayhem that finds Nick facing off against an army of mulleted rednecks with itchy trigger fingers, Nick’s comedic bonding with Billy is so awkward that the lack of chemistry between the two becomes its own sort of running joke, and a pair of comic relief henchmen (Nick Cassavetes, Rick Overton) — who are so garish in their appearance and behavior that they feel like they dropped in out of a bad early-’80s Burt Reynolds movie — are just some of the more entertaining oddities on display. But I can’t recommend a movie for showing flashes of life when the director seems so torn about encouraging those moments while also trying to smother them in mainstream cheese and awkward slapstick sequences.

Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.

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