J.J. McQuade (Chuck Norris) is a Texas Ranger, and today is out in the desert on a mission. He surveys the scene from afar, a gang of Mexican horse rustlers forcing a stable of the animals before them through a canyon, but McQuade's allies are lying in wait for them. Unfortunately, the gang are more than ready and turn the tables, holding the officials at gunpoint but just as things are about to grow even worse McQuade fires off a shot through his rifle and distracts the leader. He is incensed and demands the Ranger show himself, which he does - and doesn't flinch when a hail of bullets land in his direction, instead shooting one of the villains dead. Enraged, the leader shoots one of his colleagues, but there's no contest...
We know why that is, it's down to the fact this is a Chuck Norris movie, and though he may get a bullet in the shoulder come the last twenty minutes as happened to many an action hero in the nineteen-eighties, he remained invincible. Surprisingly Lone Wolf McQuade was not a production of Cannon, which may be why some would say it's Norris's best solo vehicle, not that it disrupted any of the conventions of the style to which his fans would be accustomed in the least. Nope, it was Orion putting up the budget for this, and with reputed script doctoring by John Milius many were wont to observe its close comparison to the Westerns that just ten years before Hollywood was churning out.
Not so much by 1983, as the perceived no longer family friendly tenor of the newer entries meant the popular fanbase deserted them, so it was that a new fashion for action flicks would predominate for decades to come, and Westerns essentially altered their milieu into men's men doing what they had to do against seemingly insurmountable odds that were nevertheless, er, surmounted by the grand finale. That Norris had a vehicle acknowledging that could have been savvy, or it could have been that he was hedging his bets with the audience, reaching from the fans of old who liked to see white hat against black hat to the eighties fans who wanted to see something up to date. Whatever the truth - it could well have been both - it was a canny move.
Thus Chuck was rewarded with one of his biggest hits, and a film that could be enjoyed entirely unironically, or one which could be laughed at all the way through for the sort of lunacy that marked out the works that were so macho it hurt. David Carradine, himself no stranger to Cannon, played the bad guy Rawley Wilkes, a gun runner to Central and South American terrorists, no, he's not in the United States Government, he was an independent with a line in martial arts he likes to break out on the unsuspecting. Norris was not exactly complimentary about his co-star's skills, but then not everyone was a champion like he was, yet that tension fed into the onscreen rivalry where Carradine's smugness was an asset to wanting to see him get his ass handed to him.
To prove McQuade wasn't gay, he had an ex-wife (Sharon Farrell) and wooed Wilkes' woman Lola Richarson (Barbara Carrera, who gets to speak Spanish in one scene) into the bargain, and they get on famously even after she commits the heinous crime of buying fruit and veg for his fridge - didn't she know he only eats raw meat like his pet wolf? He must be permanently hammered too considering how many cans of beer he puts away, but being a real man he doesn't even slur his speech after his fifteenth tipple of the day. This also gave Norris a lack of prejudice to define him as well, so his sidekicks were the Hispanic Robert Beltran (his supposed new partner who obviously missed the "Lone" part of the title) and African American Leon Isaac Kennedy from the Penitentiary movies who showed up in the second half as an F.B.I. agent. In case this was sounding too sensible, you also had the Mr Big as a cackling small person (Daniel Frishman), plus scenes where McQuade canoodles with Lola in the mud, and in what looks like an advert, drives his truck out of a big hole. Spaghetti-ish music by Francesco De Masi.