Blackbelt opens with a menacing Eastern European heavy killing a room full of henchmen with his bare hands and a few grunts before having sex with a prostitute. It then quickly moves onto introducing its hero saving a young girl from a nasty pimp. A few punches to the face and a follow-up kick to the groin, he quips, “The broken nose is for the girl. The vasectomy’s free.”
That’s about as good as it gets. And, unfortunately, it’s not even that good. Because, while Blackbelt holds the promise of a guiltily enjoyable treat from the 80s straight-to-video market (although it’s made in 1992, which makes it a little late), that’s all it is: promise. It’s like being invited to a party only to turn up and realise you don’t know anyone there and someone’s got Level 42 on the stereo. You’re looking for the exit at your earliest opportunity.
Granted, no one’s expecting high production values, or elaborate set pieces, or even a modicum of acting pedigree. You don’t come to a Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson film for that. Although that does beg the question: What do you come to a Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson film for? Blackbelt isn’t likely to provide any answers to that one.
Wilson, a renowned kickboxer who gets his world champion credentials flashed under his name in the title credits like some kind of business card, isn’t the most charismatic of leads. During the film’s gratuitously long sex scene, he adopts the look of a man who’s waiting patiently in line at the post office.
But the plot does its best to shape itself around his impressive kickboxing credentials. He’s an ex-cop turned private detective who also moonlights as a martial arts teacher, which goes to show it’s good to diversify. You never know what’s going to happen in the job market.
Into his dojo walks disco songstress Shanna (an impressively bouffant-haired Deirdre Imershein), needing protection, not only from that nasty Eastern European heavy stalking her, but, as it turns out, a nefarious record company boss who won’t let her leave his employ. His name’s Mr. De Angelo, he eats lots of spaghetti and veal, so you know straight away this is not a man you want to mess with.
All of which leaves Don doing what he does best: kicking people in the face. Which would be enjoyable if it weren’t for the film’s clumsily staged fight scenes. A tussle in a bar starts well with a few crunching bone sound effects, but soon looks more like a few guys trying to take Don’s jacket off. It’s a pattern the film seems keen to maintain: hit your marks, say your lines, and get out of there.
At times, it’s a formula that makes for unintentional hilarity, with one of the most unconvincing dangling-a-man-out-of-a-window-to-get-information-out-of-him scenes you’ll ever see. And the film’s shootout in an empty cardboard box factory is something to behold. Never have so many boxes been wasted so badly.
Fans of Dark Angel (are there any out there?) may enjoy seeing that film’s longhaired alien invader Matthias Hues tackle the stalker role here and get a few more lines than usual. The hard truth, however, is that Blackbelt has very little to recommend it. It’s probably only worth a look for Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson completists. And that doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation at all.
This being a Roger Corman release, economy is the name of the game. There isn’t even a menu screen. Just the film and then blankness. And the two are pretty interchangeable.
The Film:The Disc:
Blackbelt is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.