The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
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LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: FRED WILLIAMSON

Darksteel6 told me a while back that it was high time for Fred Williamson to become a Legend of the Silver Screen. I agreed wholeheartedly, but I told him I didn’t have any Williamson flicks on my To Be Watched Shelf to make it happen. To resolve the matter, he sent me a bunch of Fred Williamson movies.

First up is…

DEATH JOURNEY (1976) ** ½

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson produced, executive produced, directed, and stars in this briskly paced, but highly uneven Blaxploitation flick. Williamson plays an ex-cop named Jesse Crowder who is hired to protect a witness about to testify against The Mob. The don sends a bunch of goons to kill the witness and Jesse has to pop a cap in a lot of mobsters’ asses.

Death Journey is the second of four movies in which The Hammer played Jesse Crowder. I’ve not seen the other Crowder films, so I can’t say how it stacks up against the rest of the series. But as ‘70s Fred Williamson movies go, it’s an undemanding, yet watchable affair.

The low budget really hamstrings Death Journey from letting loose and achieving its full ass-kicking potential. The action suffers accordingly as most of the action sequences take place at gas stations or on the side of the road. Although the flick takes a while to find its footing, the action does come rather fast and furious. Seriously, it seems like Fred is fighting off somebody every five minutes or so. Unfortunately, the fight choreography leaves something to be desired (more than one punch clearly misses its mark).

Fred Williamson carries the film with his usual swagger. And the film features all the trademarks you’d expect from a Fred Williamson joint. All the women want to sleep with him. All the men want to kill him. He does some Kung Fu in slow motion. So in that respect, it delivers.

Look, Death Journey comes on; it does its thing and it gets the Hell out. There’s something to be said for that. I can’t personally vouch for its “quality”, but it certainly has its charms. Plus, it’s got Fred says shit like, “I’m not going to kill you baby, you’re too good in the sack for that!”, so it’s hard to chalk it up under the “Loss” column.

Our next Fred flick is…

DEADLY IMPACT (1984) **

A whiz kid uses a computer to cheat the slot machines in Vegas. Some thugs hear about his scheme and try to cut themselves in on the loot. They accidentally kill the computer nerd and then come after his girlfriend. Cop Bo Svenson goes in hot pursuit of the killers and brings along his helicopter pilot buddy Fred Williamson to get their hands on the money-making device.

Fred Williamson isn’t as cool as he should’ve been in this movie as he’s basically Svenson’s sidekick in this. Although Williamson is more or less along for the ride, he still gets one or two good moments (like when he threatens a hotel clerk). The film is pretty much Svenson’s show, but he has good chemistry with Williamson (as always). Despite the fact that both men look like they’re having fun, the film is far from their best work. (They appeared in seven films together in all.)

Deadly Impact does offer us a nice snapshot of Las Vegas in the '80s. That was the best thing I took away from the movie. And Italian horror movie fans will enjoy seeing John Morghen from The Gates of Hell as one of the thugs.

Other than that, the film is pretty sloppy. We get a pretty good car chase that features multiple cars hurtling through the air, but the rest of the action is a mixed bag. And the film completely runs out of steam during the long, drawn out helicopter chase finale. It lumbers on for far too long and if I’m to be perfectly honest; cost the film a Half Star when all was said and done.

AKA: Giant Killer.

Bo also pops up in our next Fred film…

STEELE’S LAW (1991) **

Fred Williamson stars as Chicago cop John Steele. He gets sent to Dallas to protect the Iraqi ambassador from a white-haired, samurai sword-slinging psycho (Doran Ingram). He gets saddled with a fat annoying partner who isn’t much help, especially when random thugs start crawling out of the woodwork to kill him. Eventually, Steele’s captain (Bo Svenson) gets out from behind the desk to help him kick a little ass.

Steele’s Law finds Fred Williamson playing yet another cop in the Dirty Harry mold as there is very little separating John Steele from the character Fred played in Black Cobra. The flick was also directed by Williamson, who does a competent job behind the camera. But while Steele’s Law is certainly watchable, it lacks the punch of his best work. Fred gives a pretty good performance and is clearly having fun in his scenes with Svenson, but the film itself never really comes to life. To make matters worse, there are some definite lulls in the action and when we finally do get to the action, it’s mediocre at best.

I guess the villain is kinda interesting. He goes around banging hookers and killing people with a samurai sword. Plus, he’s just smarmy and egotistical enough to make his character memorable. However, the whole conspiracy plot he’s mixed up in is rather dull. I will say the ending where (SPOILER) Fred impales the bad guy with an Iraqi flag is pretty hilarious though.

And our final Hammer-centric flick is…

WHATEVER IT TAKES (1998) ** ½

You know, any time you’ve got The Dragon, The Hammer, and The Dice Man in one movie, you immediately have my attention.

Don “The Dragon” Wilson plays an alcoholic suicidal painter who in the opening scene shows us why you should never drink and paint. Then he flashes back to where it all went wrong. You see, The Dragon is a cop, who along with his partner Andrew Dice Clay tried to bring down some drug dealers. The Dragon was unable to save a little girl’s life and he quickly spiraled into alcoholism. The Dice Man eventually snaps him out of it and together they team up to bust Fred “The Hammer” Williamson’s steroid operation.

Whatever It Takes was produced by David “The Demon” DeFalco, so of course there’s a wrestling subplot. He also shows up playing a biker who fights The Dragon in a bar. Michael Bailey “The No Nickname” Smith also pops up as Williamson’s juice head second in command and gives a pretty good performance.

Of the three leads, Williamson comes off the best. He is very good at playing the villain and essays the role with authority. The Dragon is just OK. His acting isn’t much to write home about and he’s a bit subdued in the action department. His fight with Williamson at the end is pretty decent though. And sadly, The Dice Man is a bit reined in here. I kinda wished he was allowed to loosen up a little and do more of his usual shtick. He’s still pretty funny, and I did laugh out loud at the Ford Fairlane reference.

Whatever It Takes is enjoyable for the most part. That’s mostly because the villains’ drug of choice was steroids, which was pretty unique. (It would make a good double feature with The Substitute 3 in that respect.) So many other cop movies revolve around coke and heroin, so this was a nice change of pace.

At 100 minutes, Whatever It Takes probably needed to be trimmed back a little. Some scenes drag on longer than they should and the whole thing just needed to be tighter. At the end of the day though, it’s slightly better than the norm, mostly because of the unlikely trio of stars.

Next week’s Legend of the Silver Screen: Linnea Quigley!

Tags: .legends of the silver screen, action, blaxploitation, d, fred williamson, kung fu, s, sequel, w
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