Black Belt Jones (1974)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Blaxploitation, Martial Arts  |   Run Time - 87 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Black Belt Jones is probably the best-known screen outing for Jim Kelly, the African-American martial artist who starred alongside Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. It also reunites Kelly with Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse, but the film that results from this reunion isn't as compelling or consistent as their prior hit. The problem lies in Oscar Williams' script, which goes overboard on slapstick and constantly pushes the film's comedy element to the forefront. This constant reliance on humor becomes grating after a while and reduces the impact of the film's action. Despite this key flaw, Black Belt Jones has its good points. Jim Kelly is a skilled martial artist and Scatman Crothers infuses his all-too-brief role with some raffish charm. However, the best performer in the cast is Gloria Hendry: She adds a much-needed element of drama to the film and handles her action scenes with an impressive mixture of grace and ferocity. Black Belt Jones further benefits from solid technical credits, including crisp cinematography by Kent Wakeford (who shot Mean Streets) and punchy editing from future Spielberg film editor Michael Kahn. Fans of blaxploitation will also enjoy the intensely funky score by Luchi DeJesus, which is built on an infectious theme by former Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey. In the end, Black Belt Jones is probably a bit too silly for serious action fans, but its period charm and plentiful action will please blaxploitation buffs.