Poor Jim Kelly couldn’t seem to catch a break after initially gaining attention with his costarring role in the Bruce Lee smash Enter the Dragon (1973). A handsome and tall martial artist who also happened to be African-American, Kelly seemed poised to become a major action star, but several things held him back: 1) The blaxploitation genre was already on the wane at the moment he started making blaxploitation movies; 2) Martial-arts flicks were still a long way from breaking out of the grindhouse ghetto; 3) Kelly appeared in consistently weak films; and 4) Kelly lacked charisma equal to his impressive physique. Still, the actor managed to notch a few starring roles before the gravy train ran off the rails. Among the least of his efforts is the junky Black Samurai, which was directed by exploitation-flick hack Al Adamson. Boring, empty-headed, and repetitive, the movie tells a mundane story in the least interesting way imaginable. Even the fight scenes are underwhelming, since they’re so choreographed and safety-conscious that they lack menace. How schlocky is Black Samurai? Well, for one thing, the movie does not include samurais. For another thing, it comes complete with that staple of crappy Saturday-afternoon adventure flicks—a secret organization with a cartoonish acronym for a name. (Kelly’s character works for D.R.A.G.O.N., the Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations.) The insipid plot features Kelly’s character traversing the globe to rescue is girlfriend from a criminal organization that’s led by a voodoo priest (who is white and calls himself a warlock). For no good reason, the movie includes a low-octane catfight, an endless mariachi-band musical number, an interpretive-dance voodoo ritual, a silly jet-pack ride (shades of 007), and other random scenes. Through it all, Kelly looks impressive even though his line delivers are lifeless and his martial-arts scenes are shabby. Since Black Samurai is neither entertaining nor ridiculous enough to inspire much unintentional laugher, it’s nearly a complete waste of time.
Black Samurai: LAME