Truck Turner by Jonathan Kaplan
Remember the good old days, when movie heroes had names befitting their stature? Names like Belt, Snake, Lone Wolf, and of course, Shaft. Well, add Truck to that list. Truck Turner, that is. Isaac Hayes (best known for the Shaft soundtrack and as the voice of South Park’s Chef) is the titular bounty hunter, a former football player whose badass attitude is matched only by the size of his handgun.
Assigned to track down a particularly nasty pimp named Gator, Truck and his wisecracking partner Jerry, catch the hombre after a particularly gripping chase through a water treatment plant. And, well, they don’t so much catch him as riddle him with bullets. Which, of course, gets them on the good side of Gator’s madam Dorinda (played by that most fiery-tongued of actresses, Nichelle Nichols).
Dorinda pulls together all of the other pimps in the area, and promises them her stable of women, if only they’ll avenge Gator’s death. Not surprisingly, the pimps prove to be as ineffectual as their outfits are outrageous, which is to say quite a bit. Which forces Dorinda to ally herself with the most notorious pimp of all, Blue (Yaphet Kotto). Of course, Blue has no scruples whatsoever, and begins harassing Truck’s friends, his girl, and finally, his cat. So you know that all hell is going to break loose.
A film like Truck Turner really only succeeds on the charisma of its main actor. If that’s not there, then the whole thing is just a mess that isn’t even worth being called “exploitative.” This being only Hayes’ second acting role, it’s naturally awkward and rough around the edges. But that just adds to the charm.
Hayes certainly casts an imposing shadow, due to both his towering physique (which means that he’s as shirtless as often) and his booming voice. In one scene, Truck has mortally wounded one of the villains, and is following the dying man to his car. As the man fumbles in vain, Truck literally looms in the background in such a way, even the Angel of Death might pause and think twice before coming around. And this is all enhanced by Hayes’ soundtrack.
Truck Turner is surprisingly misogynistic, especially by today’s standards. At least, on paper it seems misogynistic. Women are manhandled, tossed around, pushed aside, screamed at, and referred to only as “bitches” and “junkie whores.” And that’s just by the other women. Truck is also full of solid advice when dealing with the opposite sex. For example, if you’re running late to pick up your girlfriend who has just been released from prison, and you forgot flowers, nothing says “Let’s go have some post-jail sex” like a six-pack of Coors and some KFC.
But the movie is so over-the-top, so full of itself, that it’s really hard to be offended. Even when the requisite T&A comes on — in this case, a topless women runs after Truck’s partner and stabs him with a giant pair of scissors, in slow motion of course — the scene is so ludicrous, so awful, so obviously played for shock, that you can’t help but laugh.
And then there’s Nichelle Nichols as the foul-mouthed madam, which also adds to the film’s hilarity. Try as Nichols might, no matter how many cuss words she shrieks at her “family,” no matter how many times she refers to them as sides of meat, no matter how many times she threatens to kill somebody, it’s impossible to see her as anything but Uhura.
If we were seeing this back in 1974, just a few years after Star Trek finished its underwhelming initial run, there wouldn’t be that association. But this is 2006, Star Trek is part of the pop culture landscape, and so Nichelle Nichols is Uhura, even when she’s playing a foul-mouthed madam in cleavage-revealing pantsuits.
Truck Turner is another one of the films that I enjoy, not because it’s good by any stretch of the imagination, but because it’s so full of bad-ass swagger, so convinced that it’s about to bring down the whole loaf of kung-fu on a bunch of jive-ass turkeys — if you doubt me, just watch the trailer — that it’s actually something of a guilty pleasure.
Like such badass classics as Black Belt Jones, Chinese Super Ninjas, and Revenge of the Ninja, Truck Turner is not necessarily a film that I would ever try to convince someone of its considerable merits. If they don’t get it, there’s probably nothing I can say to make them “get it.” But I’ll close with this: sometimes, after spending days contemplating “deep” and “meaningful” films (Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Bergman, etc.), there’s nothing better than sitting down to one of those aforementioned films, or one of the many others like them — consider them the cinematic equivalents of extra-crispy fried chicken and an ice-cold can of Coors.