Fusing blaxploitation and film noir but suffering from a weak storyline that makes the whole picture feel enervated, Black Eye is a tolerable mystery/thriller featuring a characteristically confident leading performance by Fred Williamson. The movie isn’t a misfire, per se, and it’s got a fair amount of sleaze, so there’s a certain lurid appeal. Nonetheless, nearly everything about Black Eye is second-rate. The characters are all overly familiar archetypes, the central mystery feels murky and unimportant, and the general vibe is that of a disposable TV episode. That said, Black Eye runs a gamut of tonalities. At one extreme, a frothy romantic montage features Williamson’s character and his girlfriend riding a bicycle built for two. At the other extreme, Williamson visits the set of a porno movie to question someone who has valuable information. Oh, and that aforementioned girlfriend? She’s bisexual. So it’s not as if Black Eye is completely bereft of provocative elements.
The problem is that the filmmakers never commit wholeheartedly to a particular style. The movie is tame one minute, tough the next, and turgid all the way through. The wheezy story begins with the death of an aging screen star in Los Angeles. Someone steals the star’s distinctive walking stick from the star’s casket, setting a Maltese Falcon-type mystery in motion. Who stole the stick? Why is the stick so valuable? And what secrets will the investigation uncover? Also thrown into the mix is a subplot about a desperate father (Richard Anderson) employing Williamson’s character, Stone, to find his missing daughter. And then there’s the whole business of Stone’s relationship with Cynthia (Teresa Graves), who splits her time between romps with Stone and trysts with female lovers. Cynthia’s sexual identity is a source of much consternation for the decidedly heterosexual Stone.
Complaining that the plot of Black Eye is hard to follow is beside the point, since mystery narratives thrive on confusion and obfuscation, but it’s hard to care much about what happens. Stone has very little personal connection to the case, and the plot threads tethering the missing girl to the walking stick are flimsy. Therefore, Black Eye unfolds as a series of somewhat disconnected scenes, including a chase or two, some fistfights, the occasional sexual encounter, and lots of drab vignettes in which Stone pumps people for uninteresting information. Calling it anything more than passable would require exaggeration.
Black Eye: FUNKY