Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday Foster (1975)

          First, the good news. In the last of her ’70s blaxploitation star vehicles, leading lady Pam Grier looks fantastic, and she displays an endearing quality during the film’s too-few comedic bits. She’s also supported by an eclectic cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Scatman Crothers, Julius Harris, Yaphet Kotto, Thalmus Rasulala, Carl Weathers, and the always-bizarre Eartha Kitt. There’s even room for erstwhile Love Boat bartender Ted Lange, who plays a pimp named “Fancy Dexter” in a spectacularly bad performance.
          Now, the bad news. Friday Foster is a silly adventure story adapted from a family-friendly newspaper comic strip, but with the requisite level of sex and violence to earn its blaxploitation bona fides—meaning it’s too rough for lightweight escapism, and too soft to be a real action picture. The characters are cardboard, the plot is clumsy, and the storytelling is so numbingly obvious that the whole thing feels like an episode of Wonder Woman (which is not a compliment).
          Friday (Grier) gets assigned to photograph a possible sighting of Blake Tarr (Rasulala), known as “the black Howard Hughes.” Instead of grabbing a paparazzi shot, however, she photographs an assassination attempt, drawing her into a conspiracy targeting leading members of the black community. If that sounds promising, prepare for disappointment, because Friday’s unauthorized investigation, with cranky PI Colt Hawkins (Kotto) at her side, comprises a clichéd string of close calls with incompetent would-be killers and convenient discoveries of clues that only make sense when one of the characters provides a recap of the plot thus far. It’s all very garish and labored, so it’s impossible to care what happens, even in the rare instances when the storyline is decipherable.
          What makes this so unfortunate is that Grier is actually stronger than usual here; she clearly relished the chance to try something a bit outside the grimy blaxploitation norm. It’s also fun to see Kotto playing a gruff charmer instead of one of his ususal menacing roles. Yet, no matter how likeable Grier and Kotto are in fleeting moments, they can’t make up for the flat filmmaking and tedious narrative.

Friday Foster: LAME

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