Black Belt Jones: Gambling and Martial Arts

Black Belt Jones: Gambling and Martial Arts

Jim Kelly isn’t a star in the way one would most frequently use the term. Granted, he’s appeared along side a variety of well known actors – including Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. And while that showing was the impetus for Kelly’s work in assorted blaxploitation flicks, it by no means defines his career.

Instead, the actor went on to be a featured star in a healthy number of movies during the seventies. Of course, none of those flicks are too readily located at this late date. And probably at least a few of them have overlapping plots. But in 1974’s Black Belt Jones, directed by the same gentleman behind Enter the Dragon, Kelly plays a well meaning martial arts instructor caught up in a web of ghetto-based crime which winds up leading back to the mafia.

With the wealth of films aping just about the same tone and back story as Black Belt Jones potential viewers should wonder what’s the point in watching this particular effort. Firstly, the flick’s theme song – though I couldn’t tell you what the title was at gun point – was sampled by DOOM and appears on one of his instrumental offerings. Secondly, Kelly isn’t really too band an actor. And as if that weren’t enough enticement already, Scatman Crothers plays the school’s owner with a nasty gambling habit, which is basically when the film begins.

Saddled with debt, though further manipulated by local loan sharks, the Scatman character runs into intimidation tactics which include getting whopped on in his own martial arts school. Kelly’s character wasn’t around to save the day, but then figures out how to get out of debt. Thing is, Scatman bites the big one before everything gets worked out and the gangster types show up again claiming the dead dude promised them the school’s building in exchange for loan forgiveness.

That obviously doesn’t sit well with anyone and after the Kelly character’s joined by Scatman’s estranged daughter, whose luckily a karate expert herself, the two take care of things while simultaneously falling love. Reality needs a good suspending during portions of the film when the two run around the beach play-fighting each other, smashing hippies guitars and tackling each other. But in the grand scheme of cut rate blaxploitation, Black Belt Jones isn’t too band an effort.

It’d be easy to summon a few grievances, but the main ingredient missing here is James Brown, but he can’t be in every movie. Oh well.