Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Black Belt Jones

Some time back, TCM ran the blaxploitation movie Black Belt Jones. It's one of the blaxpoitation films I have to admit I had never even herd of, let alone seen, before TCM showed it, so I decided to record it. As is always the case, having recently watched it, I can now do the review on it.

The movie starts off with a James Bond film-style pre-credits sequence of a meeting at a winery. One guy is about to give two other guys a large sum of money for some pictures in what is apparently a form of blackmail. The guys who have the pictures, however, double-cross the blackmail victim by garrotting him! And then, during the credits, a black martial arts expert who is of course the titular "Black Belt" Jones (Jim Kelly) takes on an entire gang of what must be the most stupid criminals on film, the members of the gang trying to take down Jones one at a time.

Jones then meets with what seem to be federal law enforcement types, who inform him that three of their men were killed by the people involved with the winery, who are apparently involved with the Mob and have connections with some very highly politically-connected people. The people think Jones is the only one who can take them down, while he understandably doesn't want to be the fourth dead guy.

Jones, being an expert at karate, is friends with the guy who runs the local inner-city dojo/community center, Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers). Pop is involved with all of this because he borrowed a fair amount of money from a guy named Pinky to be able to open up that dojo. What he didn't know is that Pinky had obtained that money from the Mob. All of this is relevant because the dojo is the last property in a district where the "respectable" city fathers want to build something but apparently can't use eminent domain to buy the dojo. The Mob wants to buy the dojo before the folks building the new place can get it, in order to be able to sell it at an exorbitant price to the buyer who really needs it.

Pinky tries to take down the dojo, but since they know martial arts they're able to stop him the first time. So he tries something more like persuasion, but accidentally kills Pop in the process. In any case, Pop doesn't actually own the dojo; that's his estranged daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry). Jones finds Sydney, and teams up with her to help take down the Mob and Pinky.

Or at least, that's what the plot is supposed to be. Unfortunately, Black Belt Jones doesn't quite work, in part because the story is a bit hard to follow, but more because the fight scenes strain credulity too much. I mentioned that the criminals in the opening credits are incredibly stupid, but the later fight scenes also have people trying to take down Jones who are so dumb you wonder how they got this far. Just hire a sniper or something to get Jones.

It also doesn't help that the acting is lousy. I'm sorry to say that Jim Kelly is one of the weakest stars I've seen in any of the blaxploitation films, at least those that got a release from a serious studio and not the more independent stuff. Still, because it's a blaxploitation movie and a martial arts movie, there are a lot of people who have elevated Black Belt Jones to the status of a cult film. So it's definitely worth watching once so you can judge for yourself.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I'm showing my age, but I remember when this came out in the theaters -- Jim Kelly was all the rage and I couldn't wait to see it! I suspect that I might not be as wild about it now as I was then, but I do remember enjoying it. I saw Kelly in Enter the Dragon last year for the first time since the early 1970s -- what a trip down memory lane! You have me wanting to do the same with Black Belt Jones. Thank you for the reminder!

Also, on a completely different subject, if you're interested, I'd love to invite you to consider membership in the Classic Movie Blog Association -- it's a great group of old movie lovers like you! http://clamba.blogspot.com/p/a.html

-- Karen