(Italy - 1987)
Directed by Fred Williamson. Written by Brian Johnson, Conchita Lee and Anthony Wisdom. Cast: Fred Williamson, Christopher Connelly, Cameron Mitchell, Joe Spinell, Val Avery, Jasmine Maimone, Micheal Dante, Sandy Cummings, Peter Brown, Stack Pierce, Suzanne von Schaack, Umberto Raho, Riccardo Parisio, Maurizio Bonuglia, James Spinks, Cyrus Elias, Stelio Candelli, Frank Pesce, Chris Conte, Vince Townsend. (R, 97 mins)
During his eight-season career in pro football with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders, and the Kansas City Chiefs, DB Fred Williamson earned the nickname "The Hammer," and upon his retirement in 1968, he parlayed his tough gridiron persona into a TV and movie career. He landed a recurring role as Diahann Carroll's love interest on the NBC series JULIA and made his big-screen debut as Spearchucker Jones in Robert Altman's 1970 classic MASH. Williamson followed that with a supporting role in Otto Preminger's 1970 Liza Minnelli vehicle TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON before finding his niche as one of the top blaxploitation stars of the 1970s. Williamson enjoyed one drive-in and grindhouse success after another, with HAMMER and THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY in 1972, and no less than four films in 1973, with the sequel THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY, BLACK CAESAR and its sequel HELL UP IN HARLEM, and the 007-inspired THAT MAN BOLT. Williamson worked relentlessly throughout the decade, often teaming with fellow football legend Jim Brown in films like 1974's THREE THE HARD WAY and 1975's TAKE A HARD RIDE, but by the mid '70s, Williamson grew restless and wanted to start making his own independent movies through his own Po' Boy Productions. He made his directing debut with 1976's MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS and managed to talk some celebrity friends into co-starring, including MASH buddy Elliott Gould in a cameo as a bum, and Roddy McDowall ludicrously cast as a Mafioso. Williamson directed and starred in three more films in 1976: the western ADIOS AMIGO with Richard Pryor, followed by NO WAY BACK and its immediate sequel DEATH JOURNEY, the first two of four films where he'd play private eye Jesse Crowder. With Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 cult classic THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, Williamson began a second career in Italy, even directing the Italian-made MR. MEAN during his BASTARDS downtime. Though he made some American films in the '80s, most notably 1983's THE BIG SCORE and the same year's VIGILANTE, Williamson spent most of that decade in Italy, starring in Castellari's 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS (1983) as well as the director's post-nuke WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND (1983) and Lucio Fulci's post-nuke THE NEW GLADIATORS (1984). 1985 also saw him as a pitchman in a series of King Cobra malt liquor commercials, and the same year, he took a break from Italian genre fare to co-star in the short-lived Joe Pesci NBC series HALF NELSON.
But by the mid '80s, Williamson was getting lazy. He made a pair of almost interchangeable back-to-back thrillers with 1986's FOXTRAP and 1987's THE MESSENGER, both vanity projects (well, every Williamson movie is a vanity project to some extent) that co-starred Williamson BFF Christopher Connelly and were little more than an excuse to get Italian production company Realta Cinematografica to send him on paid vacations throughout Europe and the US. 1987's THE MESSENGER is especially bad, with Williamson demonstrating a level of carelessness that borders on audience contempt, whether it's staging inept action sequences, putting himself in an overlong love scene where he has the camera pan down so we see his co-star Sandy Cummings' hands caressing his gyrating ass, or padding the running time with absurdly long establishing shots like following two actors on a golf course for over a minute or planting the camera inside a cab and giving us an impromptu, MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE-style travelogue every time his character arrives in a different city. We get a two-minute look at Vegas, up and down the strip, past the casinos and hotels, and even going blocks away, taking the audience on a captivating drive past the local Woolworth. There's also a scene where Michael Dante, as a Hollywood mobster, is shown pulling into his driveway, turning his car around in the driveway, then backing into the garage, pulling back out and then maneuvering the car back into the garage again so he can straighten it out. Then Williamson keeps the camera right where it's at while Dante gets out of the car and leisurely walks into what I presume is the actor's own home. It's at least a solid minute and a half of static screen time devoted to watching Dante dick around in his driveway.
|Williamson campaigning for
Donald Trump in 2016.