Friday, May 22, 2015

Abar, the First Black Superman (1977)



          There’s a fascinating allegorical story about modern race relations buried somewhere inside the misguided blaxploitation/sci-fi adventure Abar, the First Black Superman, but sifting the good elements from the terrible ones requires considerable effort. While writer-producer James Smalley came up with a few provocative ideas, and generally displays a sound approach to characterization, his dialogue is clunky and he loses narrative focus at regular intervals. Smalley also picked the wrong creative partner in director Frank Packard; the incompetence with which Packard handles actors is dwarfed only by the incompetence with which he handles camerawork. Abar is shot in such a lifeless style, and edited so awkwardly, that it’s the definition of amateurish. And the acting? Except for leading man Tobar Mayo, who puts across an interesting combination of charisma, intensity, looseness, and swagger, the players in Abar deliver almost unremittingly ghastly work. Making matters worse, the movie was clearly shot on such a tight budget that extra takes were considered a luxury, so some scenes contain distracting flubs and pauses. All of which is a long way of saying that expectations for Abar should be adjusted accordingly.
          The story revolves around black scientist Dr. Kincade (J. Walter Smith), who moves into a white neighborhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Met with vicious racism, which manifests as protests and violence, Dr. Kincade insists on staying put so he can make a point about the resilience of African-Americans. Abar (Mayo), a bald activist associated with a group called the Black Front of Unity, shows up one day to help dispel protestors in front of Dr. Kincade’s house. Dr. Kincade subsequently hires Abar as a bodyguard, despite their philosophical differences. Abar’s all about bringing black intellectuals back to the ghetto, while Dr. Kincade prioritizes assimilation. This stuff hums along fairly well, excepting a silly dream/flashback/whatever to the Wild West era, until about 30 minutes before the movie is over, at which point Dr. Kincade gives Abar a serum that activates Abar’s latent psychic powers. Abar uses his new abilities to right wrongs, earning a reputation as a public menace in the process. This stretch is confusing and odd. Nonetheless, the scrappy appeal of Abar, The First Black Superman is captured by the moment when Abar introduces himself to Dr. Kincade: “How do you do? John Abar, crusader.” In scene after scene, Abar lets you know where it’s at, man.

Abar, the First Black Superman: FUNKY

2 comments:

Alan Beauvais said...

Just finished watching this on TCM. I knew 10 minutes in that it would make a home for itself on my all-time worst list. I wasn't wrong. This movie makes Ed Wood look competent.

Jamal said...

I think the movie poses interesting questions(should intellectuals or financially successful black people stay in the hood or cross over)that could have made for a great film. Didn't mind the "superman" aspect but it was handled rather clunky. He didn't seem to have much in the way of super human gifts. Just seemed to be an even bigger badass who can kick a little more butt is all. Maybe that's the tight budget.