Despite tasty dialogue and a virile performance by leading man Jim Brown, the blaxploitation actioner Black Gunn is never more than mediocre. The plot introduces a number of exciting elements that should create friction, such as a war between a black-power activist group and Italian mobsters, but cowriter/director Robert Hatford-Davis focuses too heavily on dialogue, relegating action scenes to the periphery of the movie. Further, Hartford-Davis and his collaborators can’t figure out how to utilize important characters—so, for instance, costar Martin Landau barely appears in the film even though he’s ostensibly the main villain, hence his second billing after Brown. All in all, the movie is watchable, but just barely. Set in Los Angeles, Black Gunn kicks off with an armed robbery at a secret mob office. Invaders steal cash and incriminating ledgers. The robbery was executed by soldiers of the Black Action Group (BAG), one of whom is a young man named Scott (Herbert Jefferson Jr.), and Scott asks his older brother, nightclub proprietor Gunn (Brown), to stash the ledgers. Soon afterward, Gunn finds himself caught in the middle of the aforementioned war. Also thrown into the mix are policemen who are investigating BAG’s activities and trying to take down the mob.
All of this should play out smoothly, providing a steady stream of chases and fights and shootouts, but Hartford-Davis lets the film go slack during long interludes of quasi-casual conversation. On the plus side, some of the dialogue is hip and snide, with Brown and costar Bernie Casey—who plays a BAG operative—coming off especially well whenever they spew insults and threats. (Leading lady Brenda Sykes is wasted as badly as Landau, while Bruce Glover—who plays a sadistic mob enforcer—has some amusingly over-the-top moments even though his characterization is largely pedestrian.) It’s worth noting that as blaxploitation movies go, Black Gunn is restrained in the area of presenting African-American stereotypes, since most of the black characters in the movie seem resourceful and tough. The problem, of course, is that restraint is not the quality viewers generally seek from blaxploitation movies. So by the time Black Gunn busts out the heavy artillery for a perfunctory shoot-’em-up finale, it’s very much a case of too little, too late.
Black Gunn: FUNKY