For many of the movies that I enjoy watching, there’s a certain quality they all possess. And by “quality,” I’m not necessarily referring to the actual merit or value of a certain movie. No, this is a quality that transcends the fact of whether a movie is good or not. For lack of a better term, and pardon my French, I call this undefinable quality the “bad ass quotient.” There are certain movies that are simply terrible, when measured by your normal, if unimaginative, movie standards (plot, believable characters, plausible storyline). However, if you measure them by the “bad ass quotient,” they become pure gold.
Black Belt Jones is just such a movie. Oh, to be sure, it’s a terrible film. The plot is ludicrous. Certain events occur for the sole purpose of reinforcing the fact that the title character is hardcore. And for a movie with the words “Black Belt” in its title, the martial arts are pretty bad (even thought it came from the same team behind the legendary Enter The Dragon). The dialog is cliched, misogynistic, and stereotypical. But, dang, is it sassy and funny. And in those rare cases like Black Belt Jones, that’s enough.
Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly, Enter The Dragon), or “Belt” as his friends call him, is one tough cat. When not protecting foreign dignitaries from thugs, he lounges around in a beachhouse apparently training beautiful women how to jump on a trampoline. (And to think I went to college to get a degree in Advertising. I guess should’ve spent some time at a dojo.)
Belt is called upon to help protect a karate school in the ghetto. A group of thugs, led by the greedy Pinky (there’s a villainous name if I’ve ever heard one) has been putting the pressure on Papa Bird (Scatman Crothers), who runs the dojo. Bird owes some money to Pinky, and Pinky’s coming to collect.
Of course, Belt puts the smack down on Pinky and his gang, who then retaliate and accidentally kill Papa Bird, but not before learning that the dojo belongs to a person named Sydney. Sydney conveniently turns out to be Papa’s beautiful and headstrong daughter. And cue the sexual politics.
You could probably write a book about the sexual politics in this film. Well, actually, you’d probably do better to just watch and laugh yourself silly. Sydney obviously has the skills to put a fair amount of smack down herself, as we see when she takes on Pinky’s gangs with a creative combination of insults (“I’ll make you look like a sick f*ggot” being my personal fave) and serious quasi-karate. However, after that one brief fight, she’s relegated to being Belt’s back-up. This means she dispatches those baddies that Belt has already softened up and has her panties thrown at pursuing bad guys.
Anyways, back to the movie. It seems that Pinky has actually been working at the behest of a local mob boss, Don Stefano, who wants to buy up the land the dojo is on in order to sell it back to the city. But Don is also being investigated by an unknown government agency (they’re in an office and they’re white, so they must be with the government, right?!?), and this agency wants Belt’s help. Although initially resisting their offers, Belt realizes that helping them will put an end to the nefarious schemes of both the Don and Pinky. Belt rounds up Sydney and his trampoline-trained commandoes in a daring raid on the Don’s compound and attempt to frame Pinky for the deed.
The ruse doesn’t work, so all of the bad guys corner Belt and Sydney at Belt’s beachhouse, but the two escape. A carchase ensues, during which the aforementioned panty-throwing occurs. The bunch of them wind up at a truckwash where Belt proves his “beltness” once and for all. All of the bad guys are dispatched with numerous blows to the crotch; or they just stand there waiting for Belt to knock them silly. And so ends a fine, fine film.
Everything I’ve described really does happen, I promise. Only, it’s about 10 times more awful, or “bad ass” if you’re like me, than my mere words can hope to express. There were several times throughout the film where you’ll either shake your head in disbelief at how awful it is, or you’ll just find yourself wondering how Belt can be that cool. Maybe if I had an afro, knew karate, had a strip of leather for a nickname, and was able to duke it out in poorly choreographed fights, then I too could be as bad as Black Belt Jones. And by bad, I mean good.
And by good, I mean “bad ass”.