Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - December 26, 1983

Author: Rick Lyman, Inquirer Movie Critic

There are two or three nifty sequences in Fred Williamson's latest low- budget urban actioner, The Big Score.

In one, Williamson, playing a Chicago policeman named Hooks who is somewhat a black version of Dirty Harry, chases a cocky heroin dealer through vacant lots and over train trestles.

In another, Hooks, armed with fragmentation grenades, tear gas and a machine gun, goes to a meeting with drug dealers.

They're both good, solid, well-edited action sequences. And the South Side locations have a nice, seedy feel - authentic urban sleaze.

Unfortunately, the rest of the picture is a lamely acted throwback to the black-exploitation pictures of the early '70s, lacking in imagination and continuity. The message is the same old claptrap about lenient courts and police hogtied by regulations.

Williamson, who also directed, can muster a decent screen presence, but he's hard-pressed to convey even the moderately narrow range of emotions necessary to carry a movie like this. Too much is left to supporting performers like Ed Lauter, Joe Spinnell and John Saxon, who struggle like troupers under the weight of the banal, obscenity-strewn lines.

Richard Roundtree, one of the biggest stars of the early '70s black- exploitation cycle, is given a meaningless walk-on. His name is listed and his picture displayed prominently in the movie's ads, but he has only one or two scenes with a couple of lines of dialogue and then - blink! - he's gone, never to return.

The so-called black-exploitation pictures died about a half-dozen years ago, but Williamson never got the word. He has kept right on churning them out, one worse than the next. Vigilante, maybe the worst of the bunch, showed up in Philadelphia over the summer. So it's something of a shock when he manages to turn out The Big Score, a half-decent, even promising film.

Williamson plays a dedicated narc who has to watch with suppressed rage while the target of his big bust is turned loose. When a major heroin buy goes down, Hooks blasts a few of the crooks, then chases down the guy with the money. The only problem is that by the time he catches the creep and guns him down, the money is missing.

The police suspect Hooks of grabbing it. The Mafia kingpin behind the buy also thinks Hooks has it. So Hooks finds himself suspended from the force and getting threatening phone calls from hit men.

Nancy Wilson has a nice supporting part as Hooks' former wife, the owner of a Chicago nightspot, who tells him between her songs what a great guy he is.

Williamson's screen presence owes more than a little to Clint Eastwood: a combination of swaggering, sneering and s-l-o-w speaking. The dumber the line, the slower you talk. In The Big Score, he talks really slow.

The surprise here is that his direction also owes something to Eastwood, who has proved himself more than able at complicated, well-paced action sequences. If Williamson could come up with a more coherent plot line, a better grade of dialogue and a slightly larger budget, he could probably turn out a decent cop thriller .

It's worth a try.


Produced by Michael S. Landes and Albert Schwartz, directed by Fred Williamson, written by Gail Morgan Hickman, photography by Joao Fernandes, music by Jay Chattaway, and distributed by Almi Productions; running time, 1 hour, 20 mins. * *

Hooks - Fred Williamson

Pete - John Saxon

Gordon - Richard Roundtree

Angi - Nancy Wilson

Parks - Ed Lauter

Mayfield - Joe Spinnell

Parents' guide: R (violence, obscenity, nudity)

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