Judge David Johnson has always wanted to stick it to The Man, but opted to go to college first and pursue a bachelor of arts degree.
They pack four times the punch! The fury! The excitement!
Fred Williamson, '70s urban movie icon, crafted the Ocean's Eleven of Blaxploitation in 1982 with One Down Two to Go. Check out this lineup: Jim Brown (Slaughter), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Jim Kelly (Enter the Dragon), and Williamson himself (Whitefire). Those are some tough mofo's! So is the final product bad as in "that is one bad dude!" or bad as in "that movie was bad and I want my money back"?
Facts of the Case
The story here is pretty threadbare and serves as a vehicle to embroil our characters in brutal fisticuffs and wild gunplay. But here goes.
Ralph (Roundtree) is a fight promoter who specializes in setting up karate bouts. For one event he makes a bet with a rival promoter for $400,000, and despite the flagrant cheating of their opponents, his fighters win (thanks to the tutelage of Chuck [Kelly], the macho, full-leather-body-suit-wearing coach). Unfortunately, Ralph's debtors are unwilling to pay up, and the powder keg is lit. The bad guys, all cracker-ass crackers with a few rednecks thrown in for good measure, mix it up with Ralph and Chuck.
Bad move, suckas. Ralph and Chuck call in their old friends Cal (Williamson) and J (Brown). As the stretch Cadillac pulls up and the two enforcers calmly step out, well, the days are numbered for the punks on the other side. Not long after the two arrive and inquire about the money, they get into a huge barroom brawl, where they of course kick all kinds of ass. So with huge pistols in hand—and I mean huge, with gun barrels the length of most people's forearms—Cal, J, and Ralph strike out to collect a debt the only way they know how: blowing up lots of stuff and chomping on cigars!
This starring quartet is made up of the heavyweights of soul cinema, and considering the star power, I was expecting more. Sadly, One Down Two to Go fails to live up to the hype. The main problem with this movie is that our four heroes are on screen at the same time only once, and that's at the very end, in a hospital room. Basically, the first half of the film focuses on Jim Kelly's and Richard Roundtree's characters and their violent encounters with the villains, then abruptly shifts to Fred Williamson and Jim Brown, who come in for payback purposes. It really is like two separate stories with different characters, and not the ensemble butt-kicking I was promised.
The opening stuff with Kelly and Roundtree is also lacking compared to the second half. For fifteen minutes or so, the film dwells on a lone karate match, interspersed with consternating facial expressions from Ralph and Chuck. The story finally picks up some steam when Chuck stumbles upon the cheating scheme and mixes it up with some of the thugs, in a few poorly choreographed action sequences. Kelly's martial arts prowess is wasted throughout the film, his fight scenes both limited and poorly put together.
Eventually, when Ralph starts to puff out his chest and make threats, finding himself faced with more goon muscle than he can handle, he calls in his pals, and that's when the movie really seems to begin. Brown and Williamson pack the punch the film was lacking for almost forty minutes. The two come in, fists balled, and waste little time before unleashing their special brand of mayhem. If only the entire movie could have been like this.
That being said, One Down Two to Go does fulfill many of the necessary requirements for the old-school Blaxploitation flicks. Here are a few:
• Awesome facial hair. Mustaches galore in this film, but Williamson wins the blue ribbon for his sweet wrap-around 'stache, an affectation that just screams "Mess with me and you'll get a pool cue in the solar plexus."
• The Man. Lots of whiteys here to beat down. Though the main bad guy isn't the enigmatic gangster lead ruling from a corrupt seat of power high in a skyscraper, he does command an impressive corral of short-tempered hicks.
• Wicked huge guns. I don't know where one would get a permit for carrying the weapons these guys pack. Cal and J's pistols are like handheld Howitzers and have the capability to detonate cars with a single shot. But that's how we like them.
• The wardrobes. Jim Kelly and Fred Williamson share the award for Most Far-Out Threads. Kelly's red jumpsuit looks like he's applying for a job at the Justice League, and Williamson's plunging leather vest with nothing underneath it drives the ladies crazy. Case in point --
• Getting it on with the hot blonde bombshell. Awww yeeaahhh.
One Down Two to Go falls just short of old-school urban movie heaven. Some serious pacing issues and not enough screen time for all four of our heroes together hamstring this one.
Anchor Bay's treatment of the movie is pretty good. The video is solid, with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There are no significant flaws and very little dirt, making for a decent transfer all around. The sound, however, presented in a shallow Dolby Digital mono, does little to help our protagonists stick it to the man. The lone extra feature of note is the commentary track by Fred Williamson, moderated by Perry Martin. Williamson does a good job addressing the filmmaking process, but too often the conversation veered onto tangents, particularly Williamson's football career. Those Fred Williamson fans out there will probably enjoy it, though.
What could have been the Blaxploitation movie to end all Blaxploitation movies just doesn't have the juice to separate itself from the pack. One Down Two to Go has its moments, but the end result is too uneven to fully recommend.
Not guilty, the court says reluctantly. Mainly because those huge pistols are terrifying…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary by Director Fred Williamson
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