Sunday, March 18, 2018

Big Time (1977)

          Noteworthy as the lone venture into film production and screenwriting for legendary Motown singer-songwriter William “Smokey” Robinson, Big Time is an amateurish but mostly pleasant blaxploitation comedy that benefits greatly from a funky soundtrack composed by, naturally, the estimable Mr. Robinson. The picture also has three appealing actors in leading roles. Christopher Joy gives an amusing turn as a low-rent hustler who gets into trouble by messing with the Mob’s money. Roger E. Mosley is entertaining as a crook with a pimptastic wardrobe, who may or may not be as tough as he seems. And leading lady Jayne Kennedy, playing an insurance investigator who goes undercover to entrap Joy’s character, is so breathtaking that it doesn’t matter if her performance is merely adequate—after all, the description “merely adequate” could just as easily apply to Big Time itself, so why not enjoy the sights and sounds that make Big Time bearable?
          Eddie Jones (Joy) is a con artist specializing in fake accidents (think neck braces and frivolous lawsuits). A string of bad decisions have left him in debt to J.J. (Mosely), who threatens violence if Eddie doesn’t make good. In a typical scene, J.J., who has his initials inscribed on vanity plates and on custom-made gold teeth, compels Eddie to leap from a moving car even though Eddie’s wearing only a towel. Desperate to pay his debts, Eddie enlists his buddy Harold (Tobar Mayo) for help running schemes. Eddie also woos Shana (Kennedy) following a meet-cute during an accident, though he’s too dim to recognize her hidden agenda. Eventually, Eddie stumbles onto a crime scene and steals a suitcase full of cash. This upsets mobsters, who are portrayed as a bunch of fat Italians sitting around a table covered with pizzas.
          Once the FBI enters the storyline, things get confusing fast, so during a good 30 minutes of Big Time, it’s difficult to track who’s doing what to whom and why. Also distracting: The way Shana’s partner delivers most of his lines in a bad Humphrey Bogart impersonation. Presumably influenced by the anarchic vibe of Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedies from the mid-’70s, Big Time is blaxploitation without degradation, which counts for something. The language is gentle, the racial portrayals aren’t especially vulgar, the violence is tame, and Kennedy maintains her dignity by never wearing less than a bikini. So even though Big Time is dopey, it’s an amiable romp set to a slick Motown groove, and every third or fourth attempt at a joke nearly connects.

Big Time: FUNKY

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