Black Belt Jones / Hot Potato / Black Samson / Three The Hard Way Robert Clouse; Oscar Williams; Charles Bail; Gordon Parks Jr.

Black Belt Jones / Hot Potato / Black Samson / Three The Hard Way Robert Clouse; Oscar Williams; Charles Bail; Gordon Parks Jr.
Black karate champion Jim Kelly may have been cynically shoehorned into Enter the Dragon to appeal to African American audiences, but strutting through the solemn martial arts film with the same cocky disrespect that Groucho Marx would show to an opera, he was funny and charismatic. Alas, watching him stumble through three of the four films on Warner Brothers' two-disc "Four Urban Action Favorites" collection (read: four lesser blaxploitation movies) proves that not everyone was meant to be a star. One year after Enter the Dragon, the same creative team reunited for the much shoddier Black Belt Jones (1974), with Kelly (or, as the ads helpfully billed him, "Enter Jim 'Dragon' Kelly") promoted to leading man. As a government agent protecting his karate school from the mob, Kelly's personality disappears under the weight of carrying a film, and while the ludicrous '70s fashions, lumbering fight scenes and decidedly misguided climactic car wash fight are worth a few giggles, this is pretty thin stuff. Still, it's a masterpiece compared to the shockingly inept Hot Potato (1976), where Kelly plays second fiddle to the apocalyptically awful comedy of George Memmoli, who really should have been jailed for his performance. The film follows Kelly and Memmoli as they rescue a senator's kidnapped daughter from a Thai super-villain, but subplots abruptly appear and disappear, the chaotically edited action sequences are sub-pathetic and Thailand looks no more impressive than a studio back lot. Black Samson (1974), the only non-Kelly film in the collection, is a competent, but run-of-the-mill, programmer starring Rockne Tarkington as a sort-of ghetto messiah, saving the community from both crime and the man. There's nothing particularly wrong with the film, but there's nothing memorable about the tired story or Tarkington's performance either, and you may actually find yourself preferring the goofiness of Black Belt Jones. The only film in the set really worth watching, Three the Hard Way (1974), unites Kelly with Jim Brown and Fred "the Hammer" Williamson for a veritably orgy of ass-kickery, in which our heroes plough through dozens of nameless goons to stop an evil millionaire from planting a serum in the water that will kill only black people. Directed by Superfly's Curtis Mayfield, it's undeniably a little stupid, but I can't imagine anyone in the market for a good blaxploitation movie not having fun. The DVD contains no extras. (Warner)