highly visible form of feminism probably had something to do with this thinking as well. “Cleopatra Jones” was designed to be the ultimate black warrior woman. Co-created by “The Mack's” Max Julien and directed by “Slaughter's” Jack Starrett, the film was first pitched to A.I.P before Warner Brothers scooped up the idea. This would force A.I.P to rush “Coffy” into production, beating “Cleopatra Jones” to theater screens and largely overshadowing this film. Now that we've already witnessed Pam Grier's rise to blaxploitation stardom, what do we make of the subgenre's other heroine?
Cleopatra Jones is a government agent, karate expert, and all around bad-ass. She travels the world, using a supermodeling career as a cover. After destroying a poppy field in Turkey, Jones incurs the wrath of a drug empress known only as Mommy. Using her dirty cops in the force, Mommy strikes at the local community project in Jones' old neighborhood. Cleo's boyfriend, Reuben, is injured by the bad guys. This makes Jones' attack against Mommy's criminal empire even more personal. Soon, she has to deploy all her considerable skills to take out this new enemy, threatening her friends and the black community.
Then again, maybe Cleopatra Jones being a neigh invincible superwoman was intentional. Maybe Jones isn't so much the black, female James Bond as she's the black, female Derrick Flint. “Cleopatra Jones” carries a rather intentionally campy tone. Every black character, and many of the white ones, are in awe of Jones. This happens so often, it becomes a running gag. The white police chief that works with Jones frequently attempts to mimic his black friend's speech and gestures. Cleo wears her ridiculous supermodel get-ups throughout her adventures. The climax has her fighting goons in a junk yard, while wearing a trench coat, stockings, and colorful underwear. One of the film's funniest moments has an old lady in a wheelchair pulling a shotgun, revealing herself as another assassin. “Cleopatra Jones” is pretty ridiculous and its clear that's at least partially on purpose.
Stingray. The chase eventually spills over into a giant drainage tunnel, the splashing water being well utilized. The scene continues to escalate, throwing in more screeching tires and screaming metal. The shoot-out, which includes the aforementioned old lady attacker, is pretty memorable. The finale involves a weaponized front-end loader and a fight scene on a trash compactor. The action is solid enough but, unlike the colorfully violent “Coffy,” these scenes are also strangely bloodless. If not for some profanity, I'd think the filmmakers were almost seeking out a PG rating.
The lead role was originally offered to Vonetta McGee from “Blacula” and “Hammer.” When she declined, 6 '2 supermodel Tamara Dobson got the part. Dobson doesn't have the immediate charisma of Pam Grier but she's talented nevertheless. She has a clear diction, establishing Jones as someone who is soft spoken because she knows she'll get her way. The marquee name in “Cleopatra Jones” was Shelley Winters, this being one of many low budget exploitation flicks Winters would appear in during the seventies. Winters goes way over the top as Mommy, a foaming, barely sane villain that uses any excuse to mention her lesbian tendencies. Antonio Fargas has a ridiculous role as Doodlebug, a hustler that Jones shakes down for information. (Fargas would essentially reprise the role as Huggy Bear on “Starksy and Hutch,” as well as in a many other blaxploitation movies.) Fans of seventies pop culture will also notice an immediately recognizable cameo from Don Cornelius as – what else? - an MC in a night club.
THE BLAXPLOITATION CHECKLIST: 11 outta 12]
[X] Afros or Sideburns
 Brothels or Pimps
[X] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[X] Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
[X] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang