Black Belt Jones (1974)

“I’m gonna make you sweat one way… and then the other.”

Justin’s Rating: (humming the theme song) ba-BAOWWW!

Justin’s Review: Few times in your life you are shocked into standing up and saying, out loud, “This is why I’m alive, baby!” Black Belt Jones didn’t do that to me — but it might have gone even one step further.

Instead of giving you the backstory on how I came across this film (in short: sick and bored college students), I will tell you my simple little test for making Black Belt Jones fans out of my friends. The test is this: make them sit through the opening credits, and if they can make it without laughing to the point where they need external oxygen pumped into their system, I kick them out of my room.

This film is just so weirdly funny, and it’s hard to tell if the humor was intentional or a happy accident. Either way, some editor actually thought that it was coolness to have sound effects accompany every move BBJ makes, but not just any sound effects. These effects put any foley artist to shame. Just magnificent. And someone wrote a script where the bad guys have about as much menacing presence as the villains on Rocky & Bullwinkle. And then a genius composed theme music that combines the best elements of (a) disco and (b) hyenas.

Black Belt Jones, played by Jim Kelley, goes around protecting his karate school from a small gang (led by a guy named “Pinky”) and the mob (who have apparently forgotten that bullets can kill from a distance greater than two feet). The dialogue here is so deliciously awful that it reads like a short story written by an electrical engineering major. And Jones’ love interest has such a temper that at one point, for no discernible reason, she grabs a guitar from a beach bum and smashes it to bits. Why? Some questions will never be answered.

When Papa gets killed (by a pulled punch, no less), Jones sets out to protect the world from scum. He enlists his generally ineffective karate students, a group of girls (one of whom is named “Pickles”), and our sweetheart Sydney (who shoots the dishes instead of washing them). It’s not the best crew, but Jones makes do with what’s at hand. Of course they succeed in taking down the mob. Naturally, the climactic battle happens in a car wash where the suds obscure most of the action.

This may be the only blaxploitation film I’ve ever liked, mainly because it seems like the jokes are on the side of the cast rather than against them. There’s a goofy, jovial fun spirit at play here, and I’m glad that Jim Kelly was able to take his own shot after his breakout role in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

Honestly, I have no idea if it’s even OK in today’s political climate to enjoy a film like this, but the humor, the action, and the bizarre moments in Black Belt Jones are all packaged into an undeniably great cult flick.

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