A blaxploitation take on W.R. Burnett’s classic crime novel The Asphalt Jungle—previously filmed as a 1950 film noir by director John Huston—Cool Breeze nearly works. The intricate story about a criminal mastermind gathering cohorts for a jewel heist is filled with betrayal and danger, so the narrative fits comfortably into the blaxploitation milieu. Furthermore, the film’s acting is generally very strong. However, first-time writer-director Barry Pollack’s inexperience shows. He fails to reveal exposition clearly, so it’s hard to track who’s doing what to whom, and nearly every scene has the same level of intensity, which creates tonal monotony. That said, the picture has a gritty look and a thumping soul-music soundtrack, so what it lacks in narrative polish, it makes up for in tough atmosphere.
The antihero of the piece is Sidney Lord Jones (Thalmus Rasulala), a slick thief who just bribed his way out of prison. Planning the robbery of a vault containing diamonds worth millions of dollars, Sidney gets into business with Bill Mercer (Raymond St. Jacques), a wealthy crime boss who agrees to bankroll the job. Sidney then hires accomplices including a priest who moonlights as a safe-cracker and a ne’er-do-well Vietnam vet who provides muscle. Also lurking around the story are various cops—some corrupt, some honest—including the unhinged Lt. Brian Knowles (Lincoln Kilpatrick).
The movie toggles between subplots at weird rhythms, as if Pollack can’t decide whether he’s making an ensemble piece or telling Sidney’s story, but many vignettes are vivid. On the lurid side of the spectrum, the always-ravishing Pam Grier shows up for one sexy scene as a hooker servicing Sidney, and on the character-driven side of the spectrum, supporting actor Stewart Bradley entertainingly chews through his role as an exasperated police captain. (Discovering that Mercer has a young mistress, Bradley goes off on a rant: “I can tolerate a little masturbation. I can tolerate a little sodomy. Let him cavort with a cow! But an old man with a nice, pretty, young girl—that’s too much.”)
Playing a bookie helping Sidney set up his team, Sam Laws gives the movie’s most amusing performance, because his character is likeable, flabby wimp who whines whenever danger is near. As for Rasulala, he’s appropriately cocky and smooth throughout the picture. Had Pollack’s skills been sharper, this same cast and story could have coalesced into something really memorable; as is, Cool Breeze is entertaining but frustrating. (Available at WarnerArchive.com)
Cool Breeze: FUNKY