Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Monday, March 6, 2017


Who are the action icons of the blaxploitation genre? The ones I always think of are Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. Like Brown, Williamson got his start in football before taking a shot at acting. Also like Brown, Williamson would become a permanent fixture in the blaxploitation genre, acting in different genres and decades, but always associated with soul cinema of the seventies. As a football player, his nickname was “The Hammer.” Perhaps not coincidentally, his first starring role was in a film about someone also nicknamed “Hammer.” Go figure. While many of Williamson's other starring roles are regarded as cult classics, “Hammer” has slipped a little to the wayside. Let's see if that's deserved.

B.J. Hammer is not a football player but a boxer. Actually, he's not even that at first. After beating up an attacker at his job as a dock worker, Hammer is recruited by a trainer to become a boxer. What B.J. doesn't realize is that his agents and trainers are associated with the Mafia. Each fight he wins was planned that way. He attracts a certain level of fame, enjoying the life of a minor celebrity and falling in love with a woman named Lois. After discovering that he's been in the mob's pocket all along, Hammer's new friends are endangered. Soon, the Hammer has to survive the greatest fight of his life.

As an actor, Fred Williamson's range has never been his greatest strength. He's gifted with an incredible charisma and has even shown an excellent comedic timing over the years. Yet the Hammer is at his best when kicking ass and taking names. Which makes “Hammer's” decision to partially be a slice-of-life drama very odd. Long scenes of Williamson hanging out at parties or cruising with his girlfriend are haltingly paced. Fred has no problem nailing his line but he always seems slightly uncomfortable. There's something kind of uncertain in his dialogue. Williamson's performance is so odd that a long love montage with his girlfriend becomes a source of unintentional comedy. “Hammer” is most efficient when it gets out of the star's way. When running down bad guys or beating up punks, Williamson does great.

At least, he does great when the action is conveyed clearly. Weirdly, the boxing scenes in “Hammer” are very poorly shot. Compared to the dynamic boxing sequences in the “Rocky” films or “Raging Bull,” the fights in “Hammer” come off as incredibly stiff. The boxers awkwardly mill around the ring until one falls over. What makes this even odder is the other action scenes in “Hammer” are quite good. A car chase between the cops and a drug dealer is extremely kinetic, the camera frequently mounted to the top of the vehicles. A fight with some thugs ends with the dramatic sight of a bottle being smashed over a goon's head in slow motion. Even stranger is that Williamson is not present in either of these scenes. Which suggests “Hammer's” director - "Galaxy of Terror" helmer Bruce D. Clark – wasn't quite sure what to do with his leading man.

Despite oddly keeping its hero out of many of the action scenes, “Hammer” still piles on the blaxploitation elements. An early scene features a comically stereotypical pimp, walking the street while swinging his pimp stick. There's plenty of gratuitous nudity. A mob groupie stripes down and throws herself at B.J. At a night club, he watches a partially naked dancer twirl a whip. An odd scene has his ex-girlfriend casually flash her breasts before kicking him out. While the mobster who recruits Hammer is black, the criminals that employ him are white guys. The most evil of which is William Smith as Brenner. Sporting a smooth mane of hair, Smith plays the villain as a sadistic psychopath, a clearly unhinged mad man who enjoys hurting people. Just for extra mileage, “Hammer” also throws in a mostly unimportant subplot about the drug trade. There's very few expected elements this one doesn't hit.

“Hammer” seems unsure about what to do with its star, sticking him in a part that doesn't quite suit him and only utilizing Williamson's natural strength for ass-kicking a few times. It's awkward balance between crime flick, boxing movie, and ghetto drama doesn't lead to the most satisfying mixture. Having said that, a few scenes make me like the movie anyway. Like Smith's amusingly over-the-top performance, that car chase, and the hilarious love scene. The unsteadiness explains why “Hammer” is not the most highly regarded Fred Williamson feature. Nevertheless, the Hammer would become a black box office star, even if the film sporting his nickname could have been a lot better. [6/10]

[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
[] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[] 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

No comments: