I can’t believe Black History Month is almost over and I haven’t reviewed one single solitary blaxploitation movie. (It always seemed kinda crummy to me that they would make Black History Month the shortest month of the year, but I guess that’s The Man for ya.) To make up for that small oversight, here’s my take on the blaxploitation epic, Black Belt Jones.
Pop (Scatman Crothers) owns a karate school that teaches inner city kids. The Mafia wants the school for a shady land deal, so they kill Pop and try to muscle his prize pupil, Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly) into handing over the dojo. Maybe these guys are stupid or something, but when you mess around with a guy that has the words “Black Belt” in his name; you deserve to get your ass beat in.
Black Belt Jones was the second collaboration between Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse and star Jim Kelly. It’s no surprise that’s it’s nowhere near as good as that movie, but it is a fast-moving and fun blaxploitation chopsocky flick. Clouse films the action scenes in a competent manner and at all times keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
This tongue-in-cheekiness does have a drawback though as it makes the tone out of whack. The movie runs the gamut from cheesy (the gratuitous white girls on trampolines), to cartoony (at one point a guy beats somebody up by using his beer belly), to goofy (the fight in the industrial car wash finale), to just plain stupid (like when Black Belt uses karate as a form of foreplay). Having said that; the flick never fails to entertain.
Kelly makes for a solid leading man and handles himself quite well in the fight scenes. Co-star Gloria (Live and Let Die) Hendry is a good match for him and can kick more than a little ass. My favorite moment from her came when Kelly told her to “do the dishes” and she pulled out a gun and shot them up. Now that’s what I call Women’s Lib. (You go, girl!) I think the best performance though came from Scatman Crothers as the head of the dojo. Now I know what you’re thinking; you’re having a hard time buying Scatman Crothers as a karate expert. Just remember, he DID do the voice for Hong Kong Phooey; so his Kung Fu credentials are OK in my book. (It was a bit weird seeing him with hair though.)
Clouse and Kelly teamed up yet again for Golden Needles later in the year.