This one hurt. The taunt opening follows a young black man escaping from a mysterious prison camp. As he creeps from building to building, the film proffers a disturbing image: a pile of bodies—each of them black—discarded like refuse.
The escapee makes his way to an old friend played by Jim Brown, who’s now a successful record producer in Los Angeles. The escapee warns Brown of a white supremacist plot to wipe out all ethnic minorities in America. But before Brown can get more details, the white supremacists murder the escapee and kidnap Brown’s woman.
Brown travels to Chicago to recruit help from an old friend played by Fred Williamson. Williamson, who operates on the South Side as a mid-level crime figure, proves reluctant to believe Brown until more white supremacist goons attack the pair. They survive the attack and recruit a third friend, a Martial Arts instructor played by Jim Kelly. Kelly gets one of the best lines when he explains his character’s name, Mister Keyes, saying “My mamma wanted people to show me respect.”
The trio complete, they split up to take out the white supremacist operations in Los Angeles, Detroit, and D.C. before reuniting to take down the supremacists’ super-villain style compound. Hal Needham coordinates the stunt work, ensuring every car explodes, often in slow motion, and delivering an impressive man-on-fire shot.
It sounds amazing on paper, but the execution lacks vigor. Brown, the nominal lead, struggles to carry the picture. Williamson packs more charisma, but also struggles with the clumsy dialogue. Kelly delivers his expected physicality, but his targets often fall down before he makes contact.
I love the idea of these three spouting one-liners backed by a catchy theme-song as they battle a James Bond style villain. But the film never embraces those sensibilities. Fair enough, I also love the idea of these three battling a massive secret conspiracy in a gritty crime-horror. But there’s nothing secret about an unending army of uniformed henchmen.
So what to make of the result? I wanted to like it more. I love the idea, but the reality disappoints.