A Piece of the Action (1977) Poster

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Heart, Soul, and Makes Sense.
drtturner19 September 2003
I've seen this film numerous times over the years. Most recently I introduced it to a new generation while removing my enamor for Poitier and Cosby and attempting to see it with a more critical eye. Even in purposely trying to criticize the film the best I could come up with is the Detective played by James Earl Jones makes Peter Falk's Columbo look like a sophomore. I never noticed it previously, but the recently retired cop character is observed looking at an empty safe in one scene and broken handcuffs in another, then meracuously he is able to deduce that our two favorite cons are responsible. Not only this, he is able to tell which one did which crime and exactly how. There is probably something that says that directors are allowed to bypass supplemental story details and cut to the chase. Now, having said this I return to my premise that this movie has so much heart, soul, and in comparison to many of today's silly comedies that seem to think that character development is not a requirement, it makes sense. The viewer actually gets a feel for the various personalities. Poitier is forever the straight man, humor deriving from his serious approach and competency amongst the unruly teens. Audiences can cheer and marvel at his ability to reach them. This is in contrast to the Ms. Thomas character who has a good heart but fails at getting through. Ms. Nichols plays a principal who is both beautiful and slick enough in the tongue to keep her enrollees at bay. Rather than gawdy scenes that provide momentary laughs through silliness, A Piece of the Action is a treasure in that it has numerous people interactions (Heart and Soul) that can be talked about for many years to come. For example, the young group I showed it to were able to pinpoint such scenes as "Tearful Testimony about little Timmy", "A Kick in the Butt for Something for Nothing",and "Barbara's Mad" as the easy favorites. While Cosby is naturally comical, his wooing of Nichols is more romantic. Consequently,the three favorite scenes by this poll do not involve Cosby, but rather Poitier and the young job seekers. This film is an integral part of my Black Film Presentations and I look forward to introducing to even more people.
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Three times too many
notlobg6825 February 2008
This film is the third and final installment of the fine collaboration between Poitier and Cosby. Unfourtuately,it suffers from the first two films being great comedies of their time, so comparison is inevitable. The movie fails because they've taken our two players out of their working class element and portrays one as a sophisticatated con man and the other as a high class thief. It also never explains how Police detective James Earl Jones'discovers them as either.Where the film works is with Poitier's interaction with the troubled youth in the classroom sequences. Some good young actors are on display here and Poitier seems right at home reminiscent of "to sir with love".But once again then the film regresses back to the caper portion of the film which is as bland as bleach. And Cosby, who was the comic catalyst in the previous films was nothing more than a shell of his former form. The films message is mostly positive, but it terms of big laughs. It falls short.
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"You don't get something for nothing!"
grendelkhan19 June 2003
The third, and more serious, of the 1970's Bill Cosby/Sidney Poitier films. This time, Cosby is a thief and Poitier a con artist who are blackmailed into helping a community center. They have three weeks to take a group of scared and angry kids and place them in jobs, and help them find the confidence to keep them. Meanwhile, they try to find the identity of their blackmailer.

Cosby and Poitier are first rate, as are the supporting cast. Denise Nicolas is back as the administrator of the community center and James Earl Jones joins in the fun, as well. The young actors are good and many would go on to careers in television and movies.

There are plenty of laughs, but this is a bit more serious. The kids are all from poor neighborhoods and are frightened about entering the job market. They also carry deep seated anger over the conditions of their lives. They use hostility and cynicism to protect themselves. Poitier spends his time trying to build confidence in the kids and show them how work with people to improve their lives, if only to feed their families, without help from the government or charities. Slowly. the kids respond to his tough message and begin to grow.

Cosby tries to leave behind his past as a ladies man and build a relationship with Nicholas. He also snoops around to find their blackmailer.

This is a film with a message, but it doesn't hit you over the head with it. The comedy and drama work hand-in-hand. Definitely worth a look.
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A Piece of the Action provides an enjoyable final teaming of Poitier and Cosby
tavm26 February 2008
In reviewing films involving African-Americans in chronological order for Black History Month, we're now at 1977 with A Piece of the Action. This is the third and last teaming of Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby and the fifth directorial effort of Poitier. Before I go on, I'd just like to note that this movie takes place and is filmed in Chicago, Ill., which was where I was born and lived for the first six years of my life. The music composer, Curtis Mayfield, himself was a Windy City native. Also, since I'm now a Louisiana resident, I'd like to mention that one cast member-Eric Laneuville-is from New Orleans. Okay, here's the premise: Both Cosby and Poitier, separately since they don't know each other in the beginning, have taken large amounts of money from the bank and the mob, respectively. James Earl Jones, as a retired police detective, blackmails them to work at a community center to avoid going to jail. I'll stop there and say while there's plenty of laughs from both of the leads and some of the characters that surround them (love the parents and relatives of Poitier's girlfriend Nikki, one of whom is played by "Good Times" Ja'net DuBois), this was also a pretty serious movie about getting ghetto kids to get honest jobs with Poitier acting like his teacher role from To Sir, With Love with good results. Also loved Cosby's flirtations with Denise Nicholas and the way she laughs at his lines and faces. Oh, and the janitor, Mr. Theodore is played by Sidney's older brother Cyril. While the film is pretty long and some scenes are short-cut with a line, this was a pretty enjoyable movie that made me a little sad that Poitier choose to concentrate on directing at the expense of his performing career for the next 11 years. When he did come back, however, he did manage to still entertain in various features and TV movies though he hasn't been in anything since 2001. If what he did then was the last of his work, then at least he has a wonderful legacy. As for Dr. Cosby, his peak of success was to come with "The Cosby Show" which was one of the last enjoyable family sitcoms to come on network TV. For anyone wanting to see Poitier and Cosby as a team however, Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action provide plenty of enjoyment for fans of both.
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Fun alternative to the Blaxploitation films of the 70s
primona16 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This film is a guilty pleasure, you know one of those movies that will never be on anyone's "best movie" list but one you can watch over and over again and secretly enjoy as much as those great films. A Piece of the Action is a stark contrast to the popular Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and stars the handsome and talented Sydney Poitier as Manny Durrell and the very funny and charming Bill Cosby as Dave Anderson.

The film is about two high-end thieves (Poitier and Cosby) who are being blackmailed by a mysterious caller with a distinctive baritone voice. The caller agrees not to turn over what he knows to the police if they agree to donate their time to the Community Improvement Center which works with "incorrigible" youth from the inner city. The remainder of the movie involves the two thieves partnering up to work at the center's job preparedness program while also looking for the blackmailer and avoiding the crooks they stole from. Juggling all these things create some amusing encounters.

My favorite parts involve Poitier's interaction with the teens. He's cool and suave and doesn't take anything off the rebellious teens. Over the next few weeks, the teens develop pride in who they are, learn the value of a dollar and hard work, and develop the necessary skills for getting and holding down a job. There is some fantastic dialogue like Barbara's (Sheryl Lee Ralph) Poverty Pimp speech directed at teacher Ms. Thomas. There are also some touching moments, i.e. Willie talking about his brother Timmy. I also like the romantic relationship that forms between Cosby's Anderson (Who knew he had a sexy side) and Lila French (Denise Nicholas), the Center's Director.

The colloquialisms, clothes, dances and music are admittedly dated (although the music soundtrack is awesome). However, some of the over-arching themes are still relevant like having pride in your race, dealing with stereotypes of black youth, etc. I really hope we see a remake of this movie as well as the other two films that partnered Poitier and Cosby – Uptown Saturday Night and Lets Do It Again. This is the strongest of the three films and deserves its place in Black Film history.
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Good at times but didn't make sense
vchimpanzee14 July 2005
I had a hard time figuring this movie out. Eventually all the pieces were put together and explained. I thought James Earl Jones did a great job as the retired detective who had big plans for Manny and Dave. Bill Cosby was funny as usual as Dave, and Sidney Poitier did a capable job as Manny, though this sort of movie isn't typical of his talent. If anything, Jones was playing the role that Poitier should have, because Poitier is such a brilliant actor. But so is Jones.

At times this resembled 'To Sir, With Love' (which I have never seen in its entirety but hope to), since Manny ended up playing a similar role. Manny and Dave were so funny trying to figure out a way out of their predicament or at least make the best of it if they couldn't. The kids were good in a 'Welcome Back, Kotter' sort of way.

The real problem with this movie was that it got too confusing. A simple story about the detective conning the guys into helping the less fortunate city kids might have been better. But then the other set of crooks made the story complicated, though still funny.

I always enjoy Bill Cosby, anyway, and James Earl Jones plays such good characters. Sidney Poitier adds quality to whatever he does.
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Dated Misfire
Fred B12 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Worth a look on late night TV otherwise skip this misfire.

Piece of the Action starts off like a crime caper and ends up wanting to be a morality play. Problem is there is no character development. We are supposed to accept Cosby and Poitier as personalities not actors playing fully developed characters.

This is an uneven script. You can almost see two movies cut into this thing.

There's the crime caper.

And there's the Welcome Back Kotter type class of losers who need to get jobs. This is the morality play part. And it's all jive.

We're supposed to accept Cosby and Poitier as wonderful guys who lead blessed lives even though they are no better than the mob guys they swindle.

What a mess.
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Lots of issues in a just fair film
SimonJack11 October 2015
"A Piece of the Action" sets out to be a film about solving several social problems, and it combines these with comedy and crime. But it is too much for a single script to handle well. It involves the rehabilitation of two criminals, played by Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. It is about inner city youths from a racial neighborhood not having the skills to seek and get jobs.

The plot ties these parts together loosely, but the film has some awkward breaks in places. The scripting of the African-American kids reflects the culture of the day. But it seems contrived at times. The rest of the cast do well with the material they have. I just watched this film, and couldn't recall having seen a "young" James Earl Jones before. Had it not been for his very distinguishable, deep voice, I would not have recognized him.
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Sidney bows out...
The_Movie_Cat4 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As the film that marked his initial retirement from acting, then this isn't a bad film for Sidney Poitier to bow out on. He even gets to teach a class of unruly kids and educate them on discipline and self-respect, almost like it was a decade earlier.

Although this is regarded as part of the Cosby-Poitier comedy trilogy, A Piece of the Action is more like a comedy thriller than an overt humour vehicle. Most of the laughs - if, indeed, you agree there are any - arise naturally out of the piece, rather than Poitier's friends coming on and doing hammed up "turns" as was the case in Uptown Saturday Night. The film has a lot to say on the human condition, and, while heavy- handed in the way it says it, does so well. Poitier - now fully ensconced in making black cinema, seemingly as a reaction to the sexless perfect black men he'd played to a white audience for so long - even gets to defy that he's anyone's "boy" in this movie. And until one of his comeback roles gave us an "MF" (1992's Sneakers) then this is the only place you'll hear him say something like "titty sucker".

Seeing these films through the eyes of Harry Belafonte is perhaps most rewarding, as he was scathing of the original script to Uptown Saturday Night in his 2011 autobiography. The star, friend, and sometimes rival of Sidney revealed that he found the comedy to be predictable and trite, and advised Poitier to stay one step ahead of the audience by bringing in a sea of names, one after the other, to do unconnected skits... himself contributing a Godfather parody. Belafonte had no interest in minor roles for the two sort-of sequels, and, having thought they'd got away with it once, had no desire to chance it again.

Another comment of Harry's was that Poitier had first stepped into the director's chair to replace a director who was removed from 1972's Buck and the Preacher. Belafonte noted that, while serviceable, everyone knew that Poitier wasn't Martin Scorcese, including himself. It's a fair assessment, and a reasonable profile of a man who was just interested in getting movies made without undue artistic flair. Sidney Poitier wasn't in the same league as many of the men that had guided him before a lens, no Stanley Kramer, or no Norman Jewison. But then he was capable of delivering a diverting package that was easy for anyone to enjoy, and no one ever rated Stir Crazy on its mise-en-scène.
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Inspiring, funny, and much more than a typical 70s film with a Black cast....
Devron Grant8 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
When I read notlobg68's review of this film, I couldn't help but provide a contrasting perspective. I first saw this film when I was a child of about four in the 70s. I remember feeding off of the energy that was in the audience as people of color watched themselves on-screen in a way that was more uplifting than other films with a principal cast consisting largely of people of color. I decided to watch the Poitier/Cosby duo films in succession again to see if they stood up to the test of time.

First, to judge this film against the other two is unfair. While "Uptown Saturday Night" and "Let's Do It Again" are comedic 'let's chase the stolen money' films (and successful in their own right in providing an entertaining experience), "A Piece of the Action" goes for something a bit deeper.

The real theme of this movie centers around 'bridging the generational gap' (and if this part doesn't work for you, then you don't enjoy the film.) There's an incredible exchange between Barbara (a young Sheryl Lee Ralph) and her teacher Ms. Thomas (Hope Clarke). After being singled out in class, Barbara let's her repressed feelings of anger fly. In a scene that hints at a conflict that is just as relevant today, Barbara somewhat accurately (albeit disrespectfully) expresses the frustration that she and other lower income people of color felt towards their more financially stable contemporaries.

The romance between Bill Cosby and an incredibly beautiful Denise Nicholas is wonderful. Seeing people of color court each other in a way that was as tasteful as these scenes are was a rarity on-screen in the 1970s.

On the weak side is the somewhat unbelievable 'mob presence' plot in the film. While these themes are done better in the other Cosby/Poitier films, their presence helped pace the film and injected a bit of action and suspense.

This film was released more than thirty years ago and it held my attention in a way that the first two films didn't. Yes, the first two may have contained more action, but the real plot of this film centers around the effort to prepare these disenfranchised children for a gainful working experience. I am not ashamed to say that I was close to tears during the end scene between Ralph and Clarke. Watching that scene and seeing the transformation that an angry and seemingly hopeless child goes through after receiving just a bit of encouragement makes you believe for a moment that almost any child can be reached if you put in the effort.

If you want chase scenes, crazy suits, and more laughs, the first two films will entertain you thoroughly. However, if you want to trade in that action for a more engaging and challenging plot, this is your film. Sidney Poitier holds up a mirror to society in 1977 regarding young people of color and some of the issues that they faced. All three films are entertaining, but I have to say that this film shows Poitier's growth and ends their buddy films in an incredibly satisfying way.
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