Three the Hard Way. It's a movie that instantly gained a cult following, but my goodness, I can't see a like-minded movie hitting theaters in 2015.
Living in Los Angeles, Jimmy Lait (Jim Brown) is a successful music producer who's thrown a curve when an old friend shows up dying on his doorstep, all the while mumbling something about someone promising to "kill them all." Jimmy doesn't make much of it until the friend is murdered while recovering in a hospital. He turns to two friends, Jagger Daniels (Fred Williamson) and Mister Keyes (Jim Kelly), a karate expert, for help, and the three follow the evidence to a startling conclusion. A white supremacist group has developed a serum that when placed in waterwill kill any black person who drinks that water, all within 72 hours. The whites? They remain untouched, an ethnic cleansing just waiting to be unleashed. Time is running out, and with three release points -- Washington D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles -- Jimmy, Jagger and Mister are racing the clock.
Wow. Just wow. What an amazing mess of a movie. I'm all for cult favorites, whole cult genres, and count spaghetti westerns as one of my all-time favorites. 'Three' comes from the blaxploitation genre, well, sorta according to director Gordon Parks Jr. This was a genre aimed at African-American audiences, focusing on the black culture, the black hero and for better or worse....how dumb, stupid and/or evil us white folks are. There's a style, a cool factor to these movies that permeates itself through the stories regardless of how goofy (and/or dumb) the stories might get. And let me tell you, this one is D-U-M-B. Thankfully, the cast is pretty cool and there's basically non-stop action through the second half of this flick.
Sometimes, a cool cast can cancel out a whole lot of badness, and that's at least partially the case here. It's really, really cool to see Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly working together. The trio is having a ton of fun to the point the script....well, gets thrown by the wayside. It's three guys B.S.'ing each other, shooting the breeze, with lots of cool "jive" talk. Am I using that word correctly? Huh? Anyone? Okay, moving on. These are three actors capable of carrying an action-driven movie on their own so when you combine them you create UNSTOPPABLE AMOUNTS OF AWESOME. The trio kicks a lot of ass, gets a lot of action in the bedroom and assorted other places and yes, saves the entire African-American community from a dastardly fate that sounds like something ripped out of a D-level James Bond movie or the worst kind of 1960s espionage/intrigue. Blah blah blah cool heroes kicking ass!!!
Seriously though, that story. It's amazing. The villain's name is Monroe Feather (Jay Robinson), and he's obsessed with wiping out all black people in America. There's Doctor Fortrero (Richard Angarola), a brilliant physician who's developed the concoction that can only kill blacks while leaving whites and other races unharmed. And yeah, he looks unkempt and crazy. Too many scenes to count where they talk about their evil, master plan, too many hilarious scenes in general. Obviously, it's meant to be stereotyped and over-the-top and goofy, but this is just great stuff. None of it is to be taken even remotely seriously. Just sit back and laugh. Also look for Sheila Frazier as Jimmy's loving girlfriend, captured and taken as a hostage by Feather and his small army of inept enforcers. Even 1970's thug Alex Rocco comes around to act tough but really do nothing.
Where 'Three' differentiates itself is its action. Things are a little slow-going through the first 40 minutes or so as things are laid out, but once our triumvirate of heroes are introduced and assembled....it's ass-kicking time!!! They split up and head to our three choke points (D.C., L.A., and Detroit) where they stumble into a world where only action cliches can survive. Our heroes hit everything they aim at while whole squads of bad guys can't hit a the broadside of a barn if their life depended on it (and it does). When it comes to hand-to-hand combat, the bad guys attack one at a time rather than rushing and overpowering their opponent. In the process, an impressive body count is racked up. It ends up being pretty fun along the way.
Overall, things are pretty disjointed, brief scenes of dialogue holding the action together. We get some male bonding in between mixed in with some horrifically odd. Case in point? Three topless women -- three dominatrix -- torture a suspect until he can't handle anymore...and dies. From what though? Seriously, from what? Fear of holding off sexual release? It's a baffling, hilarious scene. There's a whole lot of that mixed in with some very cool location shooting, including some great shots of 1970's Chicago. Fun soundtrack from The Impressions and generally a sense of "Screw you" if you're not on-board. It's not good -- not by a long shot -- but it is mindlessly entertaining because it is so freakishly bad. And seriously, how does Jim Kelly dispatch villains so easily while wearing whole outfits made entirely of leather? One of those mysteries we'll never know the answer to I guess. Too bad...
Three the Hard Way (1974): ** 1/2 /****