A Piece of the Action (1977)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.