The story involves a white supremist plot to taint the United States water supply with a toxin that is harmless to whites but lethal to blacks. The only obstacles that stand in the way of this dastardly plan are Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly, who shoot, kick and karate chop their way to final victory.Written by
"Three the Hard Way" earned its reputation on the presence of (and chemistry between) its three roundly diverse Black action stars - Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly. They were perfectly cast for a film with an engaging premise about "The Man" poisoning the water supply in three major urban/inner cities. It featured some sweet eye-candy along the way (including the always divine Sheila Frazier as imperiled "Wendy" - fresh off of "Superfly" - a more devilish interracial trio of masochistic beauties, and Fred in the bed with yet another babe), an underrated soundtrack by a quartet edition of The Impressions (post-Curtis Mayfield but featured on-screen in a recording session as record producer Brown's rising stars) and all the tricked-out blaxploitation trimmings.
The problem is that because the script was anemic of healthy plot twists, padding is embarrassingly in full effect...including an overly long speedboat sequence that plays like a vanity piece for Williamson to pose and look pretty (with a second classy lady by his side less than 5 minutes after leaving the first one - "playa-playa," we get the point), and an equally long stretch of the aforementioned leather-clad "hench-bitches" rumbling into town on their choppers. That's too much celluloid cellulite wasted on characters styling and profiling, and not enough story intricacies to keep the tension tightly mounted.
When things do heat up, it's great to see the three stars interact. Ironically, MVP honors go not to former football giants Brown or Williamson but to Jim Kelly, whoopin' on a crooked cracker cop that makes the mistake of planting some illicit substances in his gold-plated ride. "Wanna set me up," Kelly asks with most righteous indignation, then proceeds to kick the pig's ass all over both sides of a Windy City side street! Director Gordon Parks, Jr. should have also let the soul brothers have more hang time without making them jump straight into their mission to save all brotherhood - maybe even a flashback to when they were youngbloods, foreshadowing their personalities as grown men. While the stars' talents weren't totally wasted, "Three the Hard Way" should have been much more epic.
Someday an ambitious director and a cast of wanna-be's (likely a rapper or two) will try to remake this flick. Their biggest challenge - beyond fleshing out the story - will be finding three stars as compelling as Brown, Williamson and Kelly. Let's raise a snifter of Harvey's Bristol Creme that somebody at least has the fortitude to release the original on DVD, unedited, with commentary and maybe a featurette including the participation of all three baad-asss action heroes.
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