Friday 30 June 2023

Movie Review: Cleopatra Jones (1973)

Genre: Blaxploitation Action
Director: Jack Starrett
Starring: Tamara Dobson, Shelley Winters, Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas
Running Time: 89 minutes

Synopsis: In Turkey, American Special Agent Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) oversees the destruction of a poppy field. In Los Angeles, drug cartel leader Mommy (Shelley Winters) retaliates by instigating a police raid on a black youth charity house. Cleopatra reunites with her lover Reuben (Bernie Casey) and uses her martial arts skills to target Mommy's operation, including numerous goons, corrupt cops, and a distribution gang run by Doodlebug (Antonio Fargas).

What Works Well: The statuesque protagonist proudly displays a succession of stunning outfits and hair styles. Most black characters are portrayed sympathetically, and with villain Mommy squaring off against Jones, the female empowerment message is strong on both sides of the law. Director Jack Starrett stages a decent car chase and nudges the vibe in less-than-serious directions, accompanied by a serviceable music score.

What Does Not Work As Well: Tamara Dobson is more a model than an actress, and creates a talent void at the film's core. Most of the acting is depressingly appalling, led by a Shelley Winters performance that starts over-the-top and races towards a full-on cartoon character. The martial arts action scenes are stiff, the production looks cheap, and the editing often lacks fluidity. Little about the plot passes basic scrutiny, and most of the one-liners fall on the wrong side of cringey.

Conclusion: A choppy salute to worthy causes.

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