I have a memory of my father coming home from work one day with a CB radio. This would’ve been the late 70’s and CB’s were becoming a big deal. I believe he had borrowed it from a friend for us to use on a cross-country vacation. In preparation for the trip he set it up on his workbench and I remember my brother and I spending the whole night trying to have conversations with truckers who had the misfortune of driving through our corner of the Chicago suburbs on that night. We even had the lingo down…10-4 good buddy…what’s your 10-20…you see any smokeys out there? Thanks to movies like Smokey and the Bandit, even kids from the suburbs had at least some knowledge of CB lingo. Our film today actually uses a bit of CB slang for its title, and it was even released just a few weeks before Burt Reynolds went eastbound and down. This time, though, it’s Chuck Norris behind the wheel in 1977’s Breaker! Breaker!
Norris plays JD, a trucker who just returned home to California after traversing the nation’s highways with his big rig. JD first meets up with his younger brother Billy (Michael Augenstein) and allows him to drive the rig and make the final delivery for him. Now, it seems that a nearby town known as Texas City has been gaining quite a reputation with the local truckers. A trucker was even beaten and paralyzed by the town’s sadistic Sgt Strode (Don Gentry). These crooked cops even go so far as to lure unsuspecting truckers into town with strategically placed roadblocks and misleading CB messages. Wouldn’t you know it, poor Billy ends up the next victim. He ends up beaten and locked away by the corrupt Judge Trimmings (George Murdock)
Well, it doesn’t take long for JD to realize that he needs to go looking for Billy. When he arrives in Texas City he finds trouble at every turn. He has run-ins with the law as well as some junkyard goons…but hey, he’s Chuck Norris! He can handle it! The only person sympathetic to him is a waitress/single mom at a diner where they have separate menus for locals and out-of-towners. Eventually, JD ends up behind bars, but the call goes out across the CB airwaves and, before you know it, an army of truckers rides in to tear up the town and save JD.
I couldn’t help but get a bit of a Dukes of Hazzard vibe from Breaker! Breaker!. That series started about two years after this film came out, but there are several similarities. Most notably the Boss Hogg-like character of Judge Trimmings. He runs everything in town, including the corrupt police force. These cops aren’t as comedic as the ones the Duke boys faced, but the dynamic is still similar. Throwing Chuck Norris up against these sort of baddies is a good choice. Norris works well as a trucker, though he’s a trucker with a thing for eastern mysticism. We’ve got to work Norris’ knack for martial arts in their somehow, after all. It feels like a bit of a stretch, but I guess I’m ok with it.
Norris does get a number of pretty solid action sequences. One sequence has him dodging local yokels, including one in a helicopter, in a junkyard full of car parts. He even has to escape from one of those huge car mashers. The final showdown between Norris and one of the crooked cops is also a treat. It’s done in slow motion which really shows off Norris’ martial arts skills and makes the sequence feel more brutal since we can actually see him making foot-face contact with the other actor.
Where the film falters a bit is that it ultimately loses sight of what is supposed to be moving the story forward….JD’s search for his missing brother. I mean it’s fun watching Chuck Norris do his thing, but I honestly forgot about his brother Billy midway through the film. Billy gets beaten up and hidden away in some barn early on and we don’t see him again until the end of the flick. Even just a few scenes of Trimmings or Strode taunting Billy about how they’re going to kill JD would’ve helped. It would’ve given the film a bit more weight and moved it beyond just a progression of Chuck Norris action moments.
Still, the action moments are pretty fun. They help make up for a few of the film’s weaker elements. The film is clearly a low-budget affair and is a bit rough around the edges when it comes to editing and cinematography. I also didn’t care for the character of Arney (John Di Fusco), the mentally challenged brother of one of the bad guys. Such a character probably needed to be handled in a bit more delicate way than a Chuck Norris trucker movie is capable of. But hey, this is a movie where a small army of semi trucks destroy a country town in the big climax. That’s worth the price of a ticket right there! 10-4 good buddy!
NOTE: Breaker! Breaker! was just released on DVD and BluRay by Olive Films. Thanks to them for providing a copy for us to review!