This review must begin with a con­fes­sion:  Chuck Norris has always been Your Humble Reviewer’s least favorite action hero of the 1980’s.  Despite his for­mi­da­ble mar­tial arts skills, he was a painful­ly wood­en pres­ence dur­ing that prime­time era of action film­mak­ing.  He also tend­ed to choose dull vehi­cles for him­self: for every gem like Code Of Silence, there’s an equal-strength dud like Forced Vengeance in his fil­mog­ra­phy to bal­ance it out.  That said, there are a hand­ful of schlock-action gems buried in his fil­mog­ra­phy.  The best of the­se is Silent Rage, which is eas­i­ly the most eccen­tric and cre­ative flick Norris starred in dur­ing his hey­day.

For starters, the sto­ry is unusu­al­ly ambi­tious for a Norris pro­gram­mer — the sci-fi/horror/action hybrid of a script starts off with a wacko named John Kirby (Brian Libby) tak­ing an axe to a few house­mates after a ner­vous break­down. He tan­gles with Chuck a bit then gets shot down as he’s try­ing to escape. His well-mean­ing doc­tor, Tom Halman (Ron Silver), tries to revive him — Kirby is a patient being stud­ied by the high-tech lab he works for — but the dam­age to his brain is too great.

However, Tom’s less scrupu­lous col­league Spires (Steven Keats) uses Kirby’s body to test an exper­i­men­tal cell regen­er­a­tion serum designed for super-fast heal­ing. It works all too well, turn­ing Kirby into a killer than instant­ly rebounds from gun­shots and car-crash­es. Kirby ulti­mate­ly cross­es paths with Chuck and the end is result is what Joe Bob Briggs would call “Kung Fu City.”

Silent Rage is every bit as sil­ly as it sounds but it’s much more skill­ful­ly made than you might think. The script thank­ful­ly has a sense of humor about itself — the evil doc­tor says stuff like “We’re sci­en­tists, not moral­ists” and a gra­tu­itous bar brawl pit­ting Norris again­st a gang of car­toon­ish bik­ers is worked in to allow Norris fans to get their kicks (it’s a big high­light of the flick, as fun­ny as it bone-break­ing).  The story’s bizarre com­bi­na­tion of ele­ments adds to its appeal, giv­ing it an off-kil­ter feel that real­ly makes it stand out in the fre­quent­ly hum­drum Norris fil­mog­ra­phy.

As for the act­ing, Norris is wood­en as ever in the few dra­mat­ic moments but the sto­ry most­ly allows him to play his role with a dead­pan humor that works sur­pris­ing­ly well.  The inde­struc­tabil­i­ty gim­mick allows him to have a wor­thy foe for once in the fight sce­nes — and Libby’s gaunt yet hulk­ing pres­ence makes him a per­fect foil.  Silver deliv­ers a fun, off-the-cuff back­up per­for­mance (he seems to be chan­nel­ing mid-1970’s Pacino here) and Keats chews scenery with élan as the bad guy sci­en­tist.  Elsewhere, exploita­tion fans will be hap­py to see the sup­port­ing roles filled with famil­iar faces like William Finley and Stephen Furst.

However, the best aspect of Silent Rage is the styl­ish direc­tion by Michael Miller. For those who don’t know the name, Miller was a b-movie vet who also direct­ed the New World pic­tures fave Jackson County Jail before going on to a long career in t.v. movies. Here, Miller gives the sto­ry an impres­sive amount of style — the open­ing reel con­tains two impres­sive, painstak­ing­ly chore­o­graphed one-take shots done with a Steadicam. Despite a few pac­ing prob­lems in the sec­ond half (main­ly due to the script) he keeps the sto­ry rolling and deft­ly blends the hor­ror and action ele­ments. It’s obvi­ous he did his home­work for the hor­ror side of the sto­ry because his use of prowl­ing cam­er­a­work and a min­i­mal­ist syn­th score evokes the feel of John Carpenter’s ear­ly work, par­tic­u­lar­ly Halloween.

In short, Silent Rage offers cheap thrills, but they are well-craft­ed cheap thrills deliv­ered with a bizarro sense of flair.  Even if you don’t go for Chuck Norris flicks, this one’s weird enough to be worth hunt­ing down.