In case you're unaware, blaxploitation is defined as `a genre of American film of the 1970s featuring African-American actors in lead roles and often having antiestablishment plots, frequently criticized for stereotypical characterization and glorification of violence. While African-American filmmakers were substantially involved in making early movies in this genre, their participation in subsequent productions was minimal.' MGM releases their films of this genre under the guise of `Soul Cinema'. Universal, who released this DVD, did so under the header `Soul Showcase'...both seem a little pretentious, as it's all blaxploitation to me (and everyone else), regardless how much they try to fancy it up. That Man Bolt (1973) features two directors in Henry Levin (Journey to the Center of the Earth) and David Lowell Rich (The Concorde: Airport '79) and stars a relative staple of the genre in former Oakland Raiders / Kansas City Chiefs football star Fred `The Hammer' Williamson (Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem, Three the Hard Way) as the title character, Jefferson Bolt. Also appearing is the portly Byron Webster (The Poseidon Adventure, The Nude Bomb), Miko Mayama (The Hawaiians), and Teresa Graves (Vampira).
As the film begins, we see Bolt in a Macao prison, practicing what appears to be some form of martial arts (in real life Williamson does possess black belts in Kenpo, Shotokan Karate, and Tae-Kwon-Do) sans his shirt so we can all get a good look at his sweaty, naked torso. Turns out he was falsely imprisoned by charges trumped up by a mysterious Englishman, and now said Englishman has afforded his release on the stipulation that Bolt, who makes a living as a highly paid professional courier, take on a job involving the transportation of $1,000,000 to Mexico City, which he does, begrudgingly. Arriving in Los Angeles (I guess there were no direct flights to Mexico City from Hong Kong), he gets attacked in the men's room by three assailants, but given he has a black belt in karate, he makes short work of these guys. A clue leads him to Las Vegas, and there he learns the money is fake, along with getting his love interest, who sings in a lounge, killed as more people try to retrieve the dough. It's personal now as Bolt is determined to get revenge on those responsible, with the trail leading back to where he started, in Hong Kong (watch for the scene in the Hong Kong fireworks factory...is there a film out there that includes a fireworks factory that doesn't have it blowing up at some point?). He does eventually learn the truth, but that may cost him as his dogged determination has lead to someone putting a contract out on his life, a contract to be fulfilled by a deadly assassin named Spider. Survival seems slim, given the power behind the machinations to which Bolt is but a pawn, but they messed with the wrong brother, and Bolt's about to bring their world down around their ears.
While watching this film, I couldn't help feel the filmmakers were trying to emulate the popular Bond films with the character of Bolt (Heck, they even have the same initials Jefferson Bolt - James Bond). Bolt is passed off as a former captain of U.S. Special forces, graduate of Cal Tech and M.I.T. with a master's degree in physics (?), and a black belt in martial arts. He's a worldly traveler, and you know all the women want him (mainly because it's written that way). The main difference is the character of Bolt works outside the system, rather than for some government agency. While you're watching this film, think about all the Bond films you've seen, and pick out the similarities, especially in terms of the main villain and his remote island base. I don't know, maybe the hope was to create a franchise similar to the Bond series (or just cash in on it with a one shot), and they might have been successful if not for one thing (okay, maybe a few things), Williamson can't act. Oh, he can say his lines, but don't expect much else. The man's performance is about as wooden as they come, and he's not helped by the lame script. And what is up with the plot? Here we've got a relatively simple story, and they've gone and jumbled it up to the point the audience has little idea what's going on in terms of specifics until nearly the end, when a huge steaming load of exposition is required to straighten everything out, causing the film to run way too long. The film has a few positives, though. There's plenty of hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, car chases (is it possible to have a car chase in LA without it going into the LA aqueduct system? I guess not), explosions, sexy women (no nudity, though, which is strange as that's usually a given in these types of films, but then the Bond film also didn't have nudity, either), and a few really good bloodless kill sequences (hence the R rating) featuring various people getting their necks punctured various accoutrements including a jagged piece of mirror, an ice pick, and an acupuncture needle. Another missing element that's common in many films of the genre are the hyper bigoted Caucasian characters slinging all kinds of racial slurs aimed at the African American characters, so that when The Man bites it at the end, there's definite justification for his demise, usually in particularly brutal fashion. I didn't mind the lack of this, and it seems to go in line with my initial theory of creating a Bond-like franchise in that they probably wanted wider appeal, so they eased up on a number of aspects blaxploitation films are generally know for...one thing I really enjoyed was the scenes shot on location. There's a great deal of footage featuring Hong Kong, its' countryside, and its' harbors.
The anamorphic widescreen (1:85.1) picture is clear and crisp, with decent Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with no extras.