How A National Tragedy Helped Make A Chuck Norris Film Flop

There's an endless litany of cheesy Chuck Norris jokes that have substantiated a good portion of the comedic and conversational realm for nearly two decades now. In a manner of boisterous hyperbole, people have sardonically built the "Walker: Texas Ranger" star up to be a larger than life, unstoppable titan of clout whose otherworldly strength remains unrivaled by any other force in the entire universe. That being said, even the strongest man in the cosmos could always use a little help from man's best friend. In 1995, Norris, crowned with a magnificently feathered mullet, appeared in "Top Dog." In the film, Jake (Chuck Norris), a ragtag cop whose partner has just been murdered by terrorists, takes on an unlikely four-legged companion named Reno to help him track down those responsible and bring them to justice. Picture "Die Hard" meets "Turner and Hooch" and you'll get the idea (per IMDb). 

By and large, "Top Dog" feels like one giant Chuck Norris joke in and of itself. Regardless, the film had nothing substantially obscene or disagreeable woven into its plot, and it opted to declare some significantly important things about race relations and inclusivity. Why then, one might ask, was it met with so much controversy and disdain at the time of its release? One particular event in Oklahoma City that left people sensitive to the subject of terrorism and bomb-related sequences might have had something to do with it (via Roger Ebert).

Top Dog's unfortunate similarities to the Oklahoma City bombing

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh loaded a rental van with homemade explosives and parked it at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The explosion took the lives of 168 people and seriously injured over 500 others, and it remains one of the most devastating and heinous terrorist attacks in American history, second only to those that took place on September 11, 2001 (per Britannica). Unfortunately for its production team, "Top Dog" hit theaters only nine days after the attacks, and the uncanny parallels between the film's story and the Oklahoma City bombing were a little too much for comfort, according to some people. Among numerous other simple cinematic shortcomings, the late Roger Ebert pointed out some of the film's "chilling reminders of the Oklahoma City bombing." 

"Top Dog" opens with a bombing sequence at a facility similar to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. At another point in the film, the terrorist group (who are actually Neo-Nazis) reveal their plans to strike again on April 20, being that it's Adolf Hitler's birthday. It's also only a day after Timothy McVeigh carried out his own crimes. Critics and fans were unable to look past the incidental correlations that reminded them of the worst tragedy the public had ever endured up until that point, and it nearly tarnished the film's reputation beyond repair (via Roger Ebert). 

Top Dog was simply a bad film

It's tough to say whether or not anyone hated "Top Dog" more than the infinitely acclaimed Roger Ebert (above). "I can't blame 'Top Dog' for the unfortunate juxtaposition with Oklahoma City; this movie was made months ago. But what I don't find amusing is the way it employs a plot that is very specifically about racist hate groups, and then adds a cute shaggy mutt to make itself look like a family picture," the film critic stated after its release. Ebert detested "Top Dog's" infinite use of cop movie clichés and ham-fisted thematic pathos which, while certainly well-intentioned, were communicated in a rather half-baked and ineffective manner. 

Even the present generation of film gurus have some unfavorable feelings about the movie. Currently, "Top Dog" sports a 4.1 out of 10 score on IMDb and has a 32% approval rating from fans on Rotten Tomatoes