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Nurse "Coffy" Coffin leads a double life. During the day, she's a nurse at work. At night, she's an avenging angel on a personal vendetta, tracking down the drug pushers who hooked her younger sister on drugs. Along the way, she meets a honest police detective who also is leading a double life. Written by
Pam Grier and writer/director Jack Hill in their prime in Coffy
Coffy may be no real masterpiece, but for its 'type' of movie it was going for, it doesn't get much better. Aside from Tarantino's Jackie Brown (of which not only did that filmmaker take license with the 'take no prisoners' style of Grier, but the best musical pieces as well), this is Pam Grier's finest turn in what some consider in the exploitation-movie world as the first 'black-exploitation' classic. But to say that everything in the film is exploitive of black culture might be a little far to say. While to be sure the film depicts some of the black characters with their flamboyant clothing (including things that are pretty funny today like King George's cape and one-piece suit with emblem), and it also keeps to the quasi-tenement of this wave of movies where practically all of the white characters are real drug kingpins or bad gangsters, there's the fact that Grier's character- through crime and revenge and all- is just trying, in her mind, to do the best thing possible. There's also her friend Carter, who is one of the (only) honest cops in this underground of drugs and gangsters. But then again, to take such a story to heart would be missing the point writer/director Hill is after.
Because for its main center of a message, that pushing drugs on people who don't know any better (or do) is wrong to the point of having to take personal action (or standing up for the rights), this is not at all a preachy movie. If anything this is the kind of sexy, cool, violent, hilarious and just plain fun kind of movie-making that could've only come from this small corner of B-movie-making. Right from the start where the guy's head gets blown off, it only gets better with a logic that works like such- the more over-the-top, the better, the more stylish its more appealing, and for every ham-bone acting performance (albeit with a great deal of talent) there's an exciting action scene or fight. But also with this AIP mentality of having lots of hot bodied women (both white and black) in tow with dozens of breasts and other female parts, and the message covered around in stuff that's meant to be really for surface appeal, it takes itself seriously for what it's worth.
Jack Hill is actually, for all intents and purposes, a very fine and under-looked genre-film writer and sometimes gives the dialog an uplift from the trash it could've been. His direction, while sometimes not given enough of what's needed (lights for one thing, just enough to get by it seems), gets the job done. And at the end of the day what most people will remember of the film- aside from the nude girls fight and Sid Haig sporting a red bandanna and a Hispanic accent- is Grier herself. She carries this character with enough appeal to make it known why her cult status is solidified; she's sincere when she's (occassionally) really being herself with what matters to her, but also very sensual, perfectly sneaky, and has that kind of other-worldly heroic spirit that almost makes her like some kind of comic-book hero or something. If for no other reason, Grier makes Coffy still something to check out 30-something years later, and more than just a curio for Jackie Brown fans looking for the roots of that film's success. A-
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