After making a tentative transition from his pro football career to acting, via small parts in M*A*S*H and Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (both 1970), Fred Williamson played his first starring role in this clichéd boxing/crime saga, which had the good fortune of being released during the first wave of blaxploitation flicks. Williamson seized on the genre’s popularity and used the middling success of this picture as the launching pad for a prolific career in B-movies, eventually morphing into a writer-producer-director as well as an actor. And if Williamson’s screen persona was almost always more interesting than his actual movies, there’s a reason he earned the nickname “The Hammer” as a gridiron hero before he repurposed the moniker for his first star vehicle. Williamson cuts a hell of a figure—cool and handsome and muscular—while his cheerful narcissism reads on camera as a special kind of charisma. One gets the sense no one loves Fred Williamson quite as much as Fred Williamson, and superhuman confidence is an effective tool for playing cocksure protagonists.
In this picture, Williamson plays B.J. Hammer, a faded boxer who gets another chance at pugilistic glory when gangsters agree to promote his comeback. Unfortunately, the gangsters expect Hammer to throw an important fight, which he refuses to do, thus endangering both Hammer and his sexy girlfriend (Vonetta McGee). Meanwhile, a hard-driving police detective (Bernie Hamilton) leans on Hammer to help gather incriminating evidence on the gangsters. There’s not a single original thought in Hammer, which is so meager from a narrative perspective that much of the movie feels dull and pointless; even the chases and fight scenes are enervated. Per the norm for blaxploitation pictures, a revered soul musician provides the soundtrack, but Solomon Burke’s grooves for Hammer lack the vitality of, say, Curtis Mayfield’s wicked tunes for Super Fly (1972). Still, Hammer is watchable thanks to decent production values, a forceful star, and vivid supporting performances. Hamilton has a great put-upon quality as the cop, McGee lends elegance and poise to her underwritten role, and industrial-strength B-movie stalwart William Smith injects his small part as a henchman with gleeful malice.