By EW Staff
Updated October 01, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

If anyone still needs proof of Chuck Norris' prowess as movie star, here it is. After two decades of starring in money-making films, he has finally reached a certain pinnacle of popdom: With Sidekicks (1993, Columbia TriStar, PG, $95.95), he stars in a movie about himself. A modest theatrical hit last spring, Sidekicks mixes a little Walter Mitty with The Karate Kid: A gawky, asthmatic teenager (Jonathan Brandis) daydreams about being Chuck Norris' sidekick in a series of goofy fantasies. Once the kid learns karate at the hand of a modest master (Mako), he has a crack at the Texas championships (and a chance to dropkick the class bully); then Norris graciously agrees to fight on his team. It's a pleasant and sweet-minded little film. But the question remains: Of all the martial-arts stars on the video shelves-and there's an armyful-why has Chuck Norris prevailed? A look back through his 20-plus movies reveals quite a bit about the appeal that reaches a casual peak in Sidekicks. As early as 1973's laborious, ludicrously dubbed Slaughter in San Francisco (Sultan, R, $9.95), in which he played a gangland boss, the difference was evident. Norris has the kind of Everyman looks (a long, somewhat comic face, the effect of which he deflects with a rich, rust- colored beard) that make him the least threatening of action stars. He looks just like most other guys-plumber, electrician, UPS man. In fact, when playing an undercover cop pretending to be a sanitation worker in the fast- paced police actioner Code of Silence (1985, HBO Video, R, $14.99), he looks to the anonymous manner born. It's precisely that anonymity with which thousands of fans can identify and feel comfortable: He's just like us. Then there's the voice, as bland and friendly as a dentist's. Even when Norris tells someone to shove it, he's so damn calm about it. Gregory Peck's voice is hysterical by comparison. Yet you can count on him to fight off entire armies of Columbian thugs with those long, lethal arms and legs of his, as in Code. And you can count on him to singlehandedly liberate the occupants of a Vietnam POW camp in Missing In Action (1984, MGM/UA, R, $14.98). Cool and assured, Norris seems to experience no more than a half-dozen emotions per film. But that's not to say he's emotionally stunted. On the contrary, he can show incredible sensitivity to women whether he sleeps with them-as with Anne Archer in the curiously affecting Good Guys Wear Black (1978, Vestron, PG, $14.98), in which he foils an assassination plot-or not, as is most often the case. Instead, Norris is emotionally uncomplicated. Men seem to like that in a hero; it's a kind of male ideal. That's why they find Norris so relaxing to watch. Seemingly unaware of the camera, and certainly paying little attention to his physical self, yet always deeply concentrated on what he's doing, Norris appears to have very little vanity. He's reasonably well built, but not so heavily muscled or sculpted-say, in the Van Damme mold-that self-adoration comes with the package. Chuck Norris is, above all, above nobody. Yet he does the kinds of things most of us only fantasize about. Who wouldn't want to be his sidekick? Sidekicks: B Slaughter in San Francisco: d+ Code of Silence: B Missing in Action: B Good Guys Wear Black: B