The Story: The Mafia tries to buy out Papa Byrd’s (Scatman Crothers) karate school and employs drug dealer Pinky’s (Malik Carter) help, ending in Byrd’s death. Byrd’s daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry) refuses to sell and wants revenge. Byrd’s students call Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly) for help who teams with Sydney and a group of trampoline artists to put a stop to Pinky and the mob once and for all.

Review: Out of all of the “blaxploitation” films of the 70’s, Black Belt Jones is perhaps the most fun. I’m not sure if it was possible for people in the 70’s to realize how ridiculous all of the tropes of that decade were while they were living in it, but damned if the makers of this movie weren’t aware of such things. The opening credit sequence is hilarious by itself and the film hasn’t even started. It features Jim Kelly fighting a group of thugs in slow motion, freeze-framing every so often, with hilarious facial expressions of strain and wincing and cheap voiced-over hollering that sound like Kelly is throwing up. And the music, not just in the credits but all over the movie, is amazingly 70’s. There are sound effects in the music that I can’t describe, let alone identify. Sure, it’s all hilarious, but it’s also awesome! Kelly was in excellent shape for most of his life and was in his prime in this movie. And I love that the cops are standing by watching all of this as Kelly smashes car windows all around him.

There are some funny WTF moments in this film. One is when Kelly fights Pinky’s thugs while the lights flash on and off and at one point a goon asks “who hit me?” while fumbling in the dark and Kelly replies with a deep, booming voice “Batman, motherf*cker!!!”. That always makes me laugh. There’s another head-scratching moment where Kelly phones the mob to frame Pinky for stealing their money, and after the successful phone call he jumps out of the booth and declares to his friends “Hey, hey, let’s go to McDonald’s!” McDonald’s really should have used that for a commercial. Seriously.

The movie itself has a lot of terrific fight scenes of the Bruce Lee variety, with Kelly hovering around his opponents and chirping with each punch. The hits themselves have that wooden-plank-slapping sound effect indicative of martial arts movies of the time. I really love that sound effect. Jim Kelly is charming as the lead here and it’s a shame his career didn’t take off beyond some team-ups with other “blaxploitation” stars and a few cheapies. The legacy he leaves behind is pretty awesome though.

Gloria Hendry is great as the female lead. At one point Black Belt Jones tells her that he’s going after Pinky and that she should stay and do the dishes. Hendry pulls out a gun, shoots the dishes to pieces and says “They’re done”. I think one of the biggest strengths of this film is that it’s chock full of fun moments like this. I’ve seen the film many times and I’m constantly amazed by how re-watchable it is.

I should mention Malik Carter as Pinky. Pinky is my favorite character in Black Belt Jones. He’s got some of the greatest lines and he plays the role with such relish that you can’t help but look forward to the next time he appears. I love when he calls people communists, or when he confronts the children of Byrd’s karate dojo and calls them ants, and there’s an amazing scene where Pinky feels proud of himself at one point and struts around with an exaggerated swagger, essentially rapping about himself. It’s a ludicrous scene that would have been taken out of any other movie because it doesn’t really serve a purpose, and I’m glad they kept it in. Another character worth mentioning is Earl Maynard as Junebug. He’s one of the goons that Pinky hires to take out Jones, but rather than being a run-of-the-mill angry looking goon, Junebug seems to be a happy-go-lucky, albeit physically big, goon. I love when he confronts the students of Byrd’s dojo asking them where Sydney is, gets attacked and says smiling “That’s not the answer”. He gets attacked again and says “That’s not the answer either” with a bemused look and a shrug of his shoulders. It’s an interesting take on the average movie henchman and further sets this movie apart from others.

Black Belt Jones might be outdated, but aside from Sydney hurling homophobic slurs at Black Belt Jones twice in the film, the dated nature of a movie like this, with its color, music and general attitude is a big part of its appeal. I’ve always been a little confused as to whether this is a movie for kids with some of its odd humor (Jones shoots one guy in the butt and rather than bleed and fall the guy grabs his arse and jumps up and down like a cartoon character) and fouler-than-PG13 language. The movie is just light-hearted, but it’s a load of fun and is best watched with a group of friends.

About the Author

My love of action, horror and b-movies is an unhealthy sickness. Is it wrong to turn off the news and pop in an episode of the Mister T cartoon instead? Probably. Who cares?