Home Video | Review by Dan Taylor
was big in the early 70s as producers realized
that urban, inner-city audiences would line
up around the block to see flicks starring
black heroes, black supporting actors, and
white villains (who invariably got their
comeuppance at the hands of Jim Kelly, Jim
Brown, Fred Williamson, Richard Roundtree
or any of the other stars of the day). Somewhere
along the line, someone got the idea of
having a feminist blaxploitation film with
a female hero, and assumed that it would
do big business. Well, CLEOPATRA JONES did
enough business to warrant the sequel CLEOPATRA
JONES & THE CASINO OF GOLD, but in light
of other classics of the day like SHAFT
CAESAR, this PG-rated actioner is strictly
run-of-the-mill video store fodder.
Tamara Dobson (a strikingly
beautiful, 6'2" black woman whom you'll
recognize from CHAINED HEAT) stars as the
title character, a special government agent
who begins the film by destroying a field
of poppy flowers. This doesn't sit well
with "Mommy", a female crimelord
played by a not-quite-obese Shelly Winters.
Obviously, director Jack Starrett told ol'
Shell' that the scenery was a freshly cooked
Virginia Baked Ham and she should "go
nuts." In other words, Shelly's WAY
over the top.
In order to get back at Cleo,
Mommy has the B&S House busted. This
is bad since it was sort of a halfway house
for wayward youths, it was run by Cleo's
boyfriend Ruben (played by the ever-reliable
Bernie Casey), and she gets extremely pissed
off and sets off to find out who did this
to her friends.
The upshot? Cleo gets 72 hours
to find the culprit and restore order before
the police clash with Bernie and pals on
the streets of LA.
While the flick isn't a complete
waste of time on the level of STRANGELAND,
everything is handled just a tad too heavy-handed.
Plus, the action scenes are totally comic
book ... they're just not violent enough.
CLEO also suffers from the problem that
it's INCREDIBLY DATED! The clothing is vintage
early 70s, and the dialogue runs along the
lines of, "No matter how many times
I see a cat go through withdraw it's still
a heavy trip." Every other line is
punctured by phrases like "mama,"
"cat," "cool," "baby,"
"man" and "jungle freak."
Cast is populated by numerous
familiar faces, including Antonio Fargas
as "Doodlebug" (he would later
come to fame with an equally ridiculous
nickname as "Huggy Bear" on 'Starsky
& Hutch'), Michael Warren (former UCLA
basketball player and 'Hill Street Blues'
star), Albert Popwell (supporting roles
in several DIRTY HARRY films, particularly
the criminal on the receiving end of the
famous "Do you feel lucky punk?"
speech), and several people who would later
pop up on episodes of 'That's My Mama,'
'Gimme a Break,' and 'What's Happening.'
Flick is fairly dull, and
main curiosity value comes from seeing Dobson
kick the shit out of several generic white
villains. Not violent enough, too talky
and too dated for my taste.