Friday, April 15, 2016

Trouble Man

Producer Joel Freeman and screenwriter John D.F. Black, who helped create MGM’s smash hit SHAFT, reunited for another violent black action picture. Directing TROUBLE MAN is Ivan Dixon, better known as Kinchloe on HOGAN’S HEROES, and providing a music score almost as essential as Isaac Hayes’ SHAFT is Marvin Gaye.

And while TROUBLE MAN isn’t the film SHAFT (which had the benefit of coming out ahead of its imitators) is, it still delivers the goods. Pay no attention to those nimrods Harry Medved, Michael Medved, and Randy Dreyfuss, who listed it in their 1978 book THE FIFTY WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME (AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY).

Robert Hooks, formerly the star of the N.Y.P.D. television series, stars as the cool Mr. T. His job seems a little nebulous—he probably owns a pool hall, and he wins a few Benjamins from a hotshot carrying a custom-made cue—but it seems like he made enough dough to afford a closet full of suits by getting stuff done. A salt-and-pepper duo of hoods, Chalky (SOUNDER star Paul Winfield) and Pete (THE WALTONS paterfamilias Ralph Waite), hires T to find out who’s ripping off their floating crap games.

What we know fairly quickly is that Chalky and Pete are setting up T for a murder with the end game being the territory run by Los Angeles crime kingpin Big (Julius Harris). T is a crack shot, a karate expert, a licensed private investigator (and bartender and truck driver), and total all-around badass, so it’s unclear why those dummies would want to use T as a patsy instead of someone less dangerous, but it makes for an entertaining movie.

TROUBLE MAN is a tough movie, even though it saves its one major setpiece for the end. Dixon, who left HOGAN’S for a directorial career, shows great promise here in terms of pacing and smooth storytelling. Hooks, a fine actor, holds the screen as T and keeps him believable, despite the fact that T’s a little too smooth and a little too good at everything. Dixon spills enough blood in the climax to keep his grindhouse audience sated.

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