Friday, March 17, 2017
BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Truck Turner (1974)
a funky soundtrack was absolutely essential for any blaxploitation movie. The connection was so strong that, sometimes, the singer and composers could become movie stars themselves. Isaac Hayes' Oscar-winning “Shaft” theme song would make him a soul icon. With “Truck Turner,” Hayes would attempt to transition to film stardom. Even though the film was successful, Hayes would never become a huge box office draw, mostly sticking to music and supporting roles. Today, “Truck Turner” is considered a cult classic of the blaxploitation movement, a grittier and more off-beat example of the genre.
After an injury prematurely ended his pro-football career, Mac “Truck” Turner would take up bounty hunting as his professional. With the help of his partner Jerry and frequently incarcerated girlfriend Annie, he scraps by an okay living. Truck and Jerry are assigned to hunt down an on-the-run pimp named Gator, a chase that quickly becomes violent. By killing the man in self-defense, Turner incurs the wrath of an underground ring of pimps. Determined to get their revenge, a league of hitmen and killers are sent after Truck. When they can't kill him, they become determined to ruin his life instead.
a massive handgun, which he frequently employs to bloodily murder attackers. Despite being a tough guy that is highly effective in a fight, Turner is also... Sort of a loser? He lives in squalor, his apartment full of trash. His cat pisses on his clothes and other characters often comment on the smell. His girlfriend kind of hates him, as his idea of a romantic date is a six pack of beer and a bucket of KFC. Turner doesn't seem to be that good at bounty hunting. His adventures often result in property damage and dead bodies. The only thing Turner seems truly talented at is endangering his friends and loved ones. The hero's slovenly ways aren't quite an intentional subversion. Yet it's enough to make “Truck Turner” stand out among its contemporaries.
Tonally, “Truck Turner” is a little closer to the original “Shaft” then something like “Slaughter.” It feels less like an over-the-top action movie and more like a gritty crime novel. For example: The violence in the movie is frequently brutal. The bad guys beat Turner's police contact to a pulp. He's left for dead, covered in bruises and blood. Later, they assassinate his partner. The collective gun blasts are so powerful, the man's body is tossed out of the doorway. When Turner finally caps the main bad guy, we are treated to a surprisingly extended death scene. The villain walks to his car in silence, his eyes wide, the life draining from his body. For all these intense moments, “Truck Turner” can also be quite campy. The main villains are all colorfully dressed pimps – including one guy who wears a rhinestone eye patch! – running an improbably glamorous and well organized sex ring out of a series of big mansions.
Black Bullet,” a title that recalls Steve McQueen's iconic hit. Like that film, “Turner” features a fantastic, extended car chase. Turner and Jerry chase Gator through the city. In an amusing turn of events, the heroes' car is increasingly banged up in the chase. They careen around corners, weave through traffic, and leap on and off roads. A cool shot has Gator's car doing a donut in a muddy field. The film never quite tops that early action beat but does feature some other cool stuff. While feeding his cat, Truck gets into a shoot-out on his apartment's rooftop. The scene ends in a bloody assassination. Later, Truck sneaks into the villain's mansion and guns down a number of enemies. A shoot-out in a hospital is especially intense, normal people being repeatedly drawn into the violent fray.
So how does “Truck Turner” operate as a vehicle for Isaac Hayes? As an actor, Hayes is capable. The film frequently exploits Hayes' likable sense of humor. He has a steely gaze well suited to a cold-blooded action hero like this. Hayes is good but is sometimes out-shined by the overqualified supporting cast. Alan Weeks is hilarious as Jerry, Turner's put-upon partner. Annazette Chase is also really funny as Turner's long suffering girlfriend. Yaphett Kotto plays the pimp Blue, a villain who almost reaches comic book levels of evil. Kotto's sense of respect and strength makes the part more nuanced and believable then it otherwise would've been. In her sole appearance in a blaxploitation film, Nichelle Nichols goes way over-the-top as Dorinda. The she-pimp that orders Truck's extermination, Nichols spits venom and glares wildly. Lastly, Dick Miller and Scatman Crothers sneak into colorful small roles.
the theme song and, yes, it's pretty funky. [7/10]
[THE BLAXPLOITATION CHECKLIST: 10 outta 12]
[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
[X] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
 Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
 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
*The pimps are criminals and they're pretty organized.