Death Journey (1976)
Ok, the last of six Blaxploitation movies I'm doing this month (if I never see another one I'll die happy). Note: I apologize for the horrendously bad quality of the screen caps this time. This digital transfer is perhaps the worst I've come across in years, though it will have to do as I can't find a better print anywhere online. If you have one, let me know and I'll replace them later.
And away we go...
We open in New York City as the trial of a Mafia Don is not going well. He's about to be acquitted if the District Attorney can't get his surprise star witness to the courthouse in 48 hours. The witness, an accountant named Finley with knowledge of the Don's shadiness, is currently in Los Angeles. So the DA calls the LAPD and the FBI and they arrange to get the guy on a guarded flight from Los Angeles to New York wh...wait, no? The DA on his own calls Jesse, a mercenary ex-cop with a mean streak the length of I-80, to make a solo (dumdumdum) death journey cross-country with the witness? Ok, sure, I'm game for anything at this point.
DA on his oldschool cellphone, must have the charger plugged in.
We first meet Jesse at his (near empty) karate school in LA, where we see him sparing with some skinny, floppy-haired dude for what seems like twelve hours (a lot of scenes in this movie stretch on far longer than they should). Jesse is played...no, make that, Jesse IS Fred Williamson, baddest mutha on the planet, ravager of ladies' virtues, puncher of faces, and destroyer of worlds. He's not acting, he's living, baby! He's also the film's director, as well, and it shows, the whole movie is one big ego piece, designed to show off his virile manliness and immaculate mustache in such a way that other men in the audience would see only their own sissyness and kill themselves in shame (and then their girlfriends would queue up to boink Fred Williamson, repeatedly). [Editor Pam: Well, it is a nice mustache.]
Shaft! Shit, I mean, Jesse!
There at the gym is a perfectly bangable soul-sister secretary who spends her short time on screen salivating on Jesse. She's the first of many girls who come in and out of this movie who Jesse has or will soon introduce to his love-anaconda (virtually every one he meets). A lot of actors/directors end up putting their own desperate fantasies on screen, starring themselves, but this movie is the most egregious example of this I've ever seen. It wouldn't surprise me if by the third act Jesse had punched Joseph Stalin and wrestled the squid from the end of Watchmen, all while body-surfing across a field of naked Playboy playmates.
Not even his fabulous Drugstore Cowboy western shirt can deflect the ladies.
Two plainclothes LA cops show up now, former partners of Jesse's from his days on the force. They heckle and insult him for a bit, take some non-threatening ribbing back in return, and then disappear for the rest of the movie. Uh, why were they even in here? There was a lot of set-up here for them to not show up later in the movie. Did they have bigger roles in the first draft of the script? Ah, who am I kidding, there was no script, Fred Williamson just winged every scene (probably true as after a while you notice that only Fred seems to know what's going on in scenes, the other people just stand uncomfortably in the background, glancing around nervously, waiting for Fred to tell them what to do next).
The Man hassles Jesse, but Jesse hassles right back.
Next some Random Blonde Girl shows up at his door (why?) and they almost instantly do the humpty-hump. As he lays there afterwards, his Buffy the White Girl Slayer exposed for all the world to see, the blonde gushes about how amazing he is and how life now has no meaning without him (ok, ok, we get it), but Jesse don't do commitment. She also gives him a watch for some reason. Last time a girl gave me a gift after sex, it took three courses of amoxicillin to get rid of it.
Random Blonde Girl: "Oh, Jesse, sex with you is like making love to pure awesome! Will you move in with me? We can re-decorate the kitchen together and get new placemats down at the Pottery Barn."
Jesse: "Uhh...yeah, baby, that sounds...uh, nice, yeah. Hey, I gotta go down to the car for a sec to get some smokes, why don't you wait here for me?"
Blondie enjoys the view.
The next day Jesse puts on his disturbingly tight black jeans and a long-sleeved black button down shirt. He then unbuttons the shirt completely and spends the rest of the movie with his bare chest exposed, because he damn well can. He jumps into his classic '60s muscle car with the racing stripes and the glass packs and motors over to pick up the witness Finley from his apartment. I hope he's driving him directly to LAX to get on a plane to New York, because that's the smartest thing to do. No? He's going to drive across the continent? Ok, I've already learned not to question Jesse's decisions (he punched me through the monitor once already).
Nice Mustang, though I wonder why only the back tires are white walls. Also, 63.9 cents a gallon!?! Sumabitch!
At a gas station somewhere in the Mojave Desert, a cute black girl saunters up to Jesse and asks him directions to Colorado (which I think is hip-jive slang for her whoo-hoo). Before Jesse can deflower her right there in the parking lot, a car pulls up and a bunch of hired thugs jump out and start shooting (the Mafia Don wants the witness dead). Jesse pulls out his chrome-plated .357 and returns fire, and then starts punching and kicking everyone foolish enough to enter his field of vision. In the crossfire, the cute girl and some unlucky bystander are killed, though Jesse shows no concern. If fact, throughout his entire death journey (!), Jesse leaves a trail of mangled, riddled corpses, not all of them bad guys, and doesn't seem to have any problem with it.
Random Thug: "Oww! My spleen! Why are you punching me, I was just standing here. Punch that guy, he has the gun."
Jesse: "He will be punched when I tell him to be punched, dig?"
Random Thug: "Arg! It's like my soul is on fire."
Jesse: "That's the righteous burn of justice, baby."
I only show this because , to my surprise, when Jesse shoots at a car, the bullet holes appear realistic, like he really did fire live ammunition at a car carrying stuntmen (don't worry, Jesse take care of you).
They jump in their Mustang and roar off, chased down the highway by a puke-yellow Mercury sedan full of thugs. Instead of just hammering the Mustang's throbbing, polar bear-killing V-8 to escape on the open road, Jesse decides to give up his speed advantage by driving off-road through the dusty desert like he's on the Land Rover team at Dakar. The chase mercifully ends when Jesse kamikazes his car into the other car.
So Jesse and Finley walk along on foot for a while until they reach the highway again. About five seconds later, a Mercedes careens to a halt and four thugs jump out and give chase. While Finley stands still, Jesse runs back into the desert to draw them off. For some reason, instead of just running over to Finley and shooting him in the head as he stands there in plain sight, they chase off after Jesse. Did I miss something, aren't they hired to kill Finley, the prime witness? Who cares about Jesse, isn't he essentially just a bodyguard? And why does one guy have a Gilligan bucket hat on, doesn't he know how unfashionable those are?
Oww, I can't run in these deck loafers!
Jesse runs like a glistening ebony gazelle through the scrub and rocks, just daring any wimpy cactus to block his path. The four white dudes are powerless to match his awesomeness, and would probably just stand there in reverent awe if Jesse wasn't punching them. Jesse shoots one of them dead and avoids the rest by jumping a hundred feet in the air to magically appear behind a rocky ridge when he was just standing down in the valley two seconds ago (I'm just assuming he has off-screen teleportation superpowers).
Jesse: "Hey, dudes, I'm going to run over here. And then I'm going to run over there. And I'm not going to sweat, because sweating is for pansies."
Thugs: "We can't keep up, he's like a turbo-powered ball of fantastic!"
Jesse: "It hurts me to have to slow down for you white people."
Jesse running...or maybe a missing still from the Patterson Bigfoot film?
Finley, meanwhile, goes off on his own and hitchhikes down the road to Palm Springs. Jesse catches up to him just as he boards the famous Aerial Tramway for some reason. The Air Tram is just a tourist trap, it goes nowhere important. Is it just in this movie because it looks cool? Because it doesn't. That fight on the tram in Moonraker, however, that was damn cool.
Anyway, the bad guys are here again and they bum-rush Jesse with fists-a-flyin'. Using the Unassailable Logic of Henchmen, they decide not to use their guns this time, but just to flail uselessly at the flesh-shredding buzzsaws Jesse calls his hands and feet. It doesn't go well for them.
Jesse: "Hey, aren't you the same stuntman that I just shot to death a few scenes ago?"
Random Thug: "Uh, no, that was Carl."
Jesse: "No, that was you alright, you just changed your shirt, you still have the same stupidass plaid pants on. Did you think I wouldn't notice? I'm the director."
Random Thug: "Damn."
Jesse: "And I'm dubbing over your lines later so you'll be back to making scale for this gig. Now take this!"
Random Thug: "Oww! My ovaries!"
Finley watches the fight, he's no help.
Later, Jesse and Finley are walking along a street in Palm Springs when they see that same Mercedes angling towards them again. They spot a convertible sitting at a nearby red light and jump in, Jesse waving a wad of cash at the driver to get them out of there. Of course, the driver is a hot girl who instantly starts to huff and pant over Jesse's exposed abs and come-hither mustache. She drives around and they lose their tail and then she suggests they go check into a hotel and hide out. Once in the room, even before Jesse can put down his suitcase, the girl is taking her clothes off. Then, like any good one-night stand, he slips out quietly without even bothering to leave his phone number (like he'd answer her call anyway...). Apparently this sort of thing happens to Jesse at lot (if this movie is any indication, at least five times a day) and he's pretty blase about it by now. It seems he's lost the thrill of intimate encounters, they're more like business transactions to him.
Jesse don't need no wine to get him in the mood.
They then walk to Jesse's old girlfriend's house, also in Palm Springs, to hide out for a bit more. The bad guys find them there quickly (they're good at that), and there's (yet) another gunfight in a populated area that no one seems to notice. To my surprise, Jesse doesn't shoot from the hip with uncanny accuracy, he actually aims. A part of me just lost some respect for him.
Danny Partridge takes a shot at Jesse.
Once the shooting's over, we see that there's actually two hot girls living here and they are so impressed with Jesse's ability to murder people in their backyard that they want a threesome with him. He is indeed willing and able to oblige. One wonders just how many little Jesse Juniors there are running around North America.
Jesse: "Another threesome? Sure, I haven't had one since yesterday."
Random Chick #1: "squeal. Oh, Jesse, afterwards I'm going to let you borrow my Honda and put your name on my checking account."
Random Chick #2: "Can I co-sign a car loan for you? Please, please?! I need you!"
Jesse: "Hot damn, I love being me."
They might be roommates, but they sure look like sisters (double score!).
The next day Jesse and Finley get on a Greyhound bus and travel uneventfully all the way to Saint Louis. At the Saint Louis Amtrak train station, however, an unseen sniper in a building across the way takes a shot at them, but misses and pegs a random bystander instead. Jesse seems completely unconcerned about this and looks sternly at the building, and the building weeps.
Jesse: "I'm not afraid of no sniper. I'll just stand out here in the open and stare at that building until it falls down. Fall down.
Random building: "Please don't hurt me! I have a family!"
His eyes are like steel balls of anger!
Because it's been at least nine hours since Jesse had sex with someone, we need another female character. Seven steps into the train station Jesse meets a hot, long-legged fashion model who nearly falls over herself trying to mate with him. Jesse is fine with this and they all get on the train to Chicago.
Random Girl Model: "Hi, it just so happens that I'm also traveling to Chi..."
Jesse: "Why are your pants still on, woman!? Don't you know who I am?"
Random Girl Model: "Oh, my goodness, is that your penis or did I just step onto the Midnight Meat Train to next-morning soreness?"
Jesse: "Why are you still talking?"
The model chews her glasses, but she'd rather have something else to gnaw on.
After a passionate game of hide the black python, Jesse takes a little nappy to recharge his nuclear batteries. The girl slips out of bed, flicks open a switchblade knife and goes creeping over to Finley's room. Ah, how noir, a beautiful woman on a train with evil in her heart. Jesse, who seems to sleep like a cat with one eye open at all times, breaks it up just in time. When she haltingly asks him if she's to be killed, Jesse answers, "You're too good in the sack to kill, I'm just going to bruise you up a bit." He then throws her off the goddamn train! Oh, that's going to leave several bruises.
Oh, come on, like you've never wanted to throw someone off a moving train before? Hypocrites.
Once in Chicago, they go immediately to O'Hare and buy two tickets to New York (they should have done that in LA!). Now, normally when a movie has a flight scene, they just use a simple four-second establishing shot of a plane landing at an airport to show that the setting has now changed to a new location. But in Death Journey we get two excruciatingly long minutes of a plane taking off, another three boring minutes of a completely different plane landing, and then an additional three insane minutes of a plane taxiing slowly up to the concourse. Do we need really eight minutes of this? Do the terms "pacing" or "scene momentum" mean anything to you? No? How about "padding out your running time because the studio contract specified a 90 minute-long movie and all you have is 67 minutes of crap and are in desperate need of filler so you can get paid"? How about that one?
A promotional consideration was paid by TransWorld Airlnes.
At the JFK giftshop, while Jesse buys an "I heart NYC" t-shirt and the latest James Patterson novel, Finley is kidnapped by a guy in a trenchcoat who looks like Carmen Santiago. Jesse sees them leave and drops his bag there in the terminal and runs after them (remember this). Jesse follows at quite a distance, taking a risk that the guy won't just shoot Finley as soon as they're behind a bush or something. There's the predictable fistfight next, as Jesse mauls the thug and gets Finley back in one piece. This makes like the dozenth time some thug thought he could take Jesse in hand-to-hand combat. Silly boys, don't you know who you are dealing with here?
Jesse: "Unhand that man, you foul devil, or I shall be forced to box with you, verily, I say!"
Thug: "Gasp! My trenchcoat, you've soiled it! You're paying the dry cleaning bill!"
Jesse shows off his sick dance moves.
At their hotel, we see that Jesse has his suitcase back, despite the fact he left it unattended in the terminal corridor at JFK for like an hour. I only mention this because once I had my suitcase cut open (motherfucking cut) by some unsavory type while I was in the boarding lounge at JFK. I learned later that they do this to fish their grubby little thieving hands around in the suitcase without having to use the noisy zipper. Fucker. Anyway, Jesse stupidly lets in a guy pushing a room service cart who turns out to be an assassin. Seriously, who hasn't seen the whole fake-bellhop trick in movies? Fred, you're the director, you're supposed to have at least some knowledge of prior films, right? There's a fight and the thug ends up in the bathtub, which is mysteriously full of water. Jesse reminds him to dry his hair after his bath and tosses in an electric hair dryer with him. That's some sizzle!
Jesse: "Are you a crab, cuz you're boiling, baby!"
Random Thug: "AAAHHHH!!! My skin! Wait, what? You don't boil crab."
Jesse: "You don't? You sure?"
Random Thug: "ARRGG!!! Oh the humanity! Well, I don't think so, maybe. My mom always deep fried them."
Jesse: "Hey, my mom did, too. Deep fried everything. Chicken, lamb, she even deep fried that there deer meet, what do you call that stuff?"
Random Thug: "OHHHH!!! The burning and the pain! Venison. Good with rice."
Why does Jesse insist on wearing these tight gym pants? I can see his man-bulge and that's upsetting to me on many levels.
Jesse and Finley have one last talk while sitting in bed (with a dead guy in the tub just six feet away from them, not that they seem to notice). Jesse has been wondering all movie long how those thugs always seemed to know where he was, and he finds a "homing beacon" in the watch that the blonde chick gave him way back in the sixth paragraph of this review. Oh, I guess I should have mentioned back then that the blonde chick was seen earlier on the arm of the Mafia Don, so she clearly was setting Jesse up. Yeah, might have helped to have put that in, sorry.
Finley sleeps in the nude, it's like John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, only Steve Martin never shot anyone in the face.
The District Attorney shows up now. Despite having just killed one attacker who tried to sneak in, when the DA knocks on the door, Jesse just calmly calls out "Come in!" from across the room, apparently having not learned anything. The DA acts a bit suspicious, but I guess it's all good as he leaves with Finley and Jesse gets his briefcase full of cash in return. Jesse heads back to LA now, leaving the hotel in a stretch Cadillac limo (Jesse don't ride in no Toyota). Wow, check out the hot girl in the equestrian riding outfit driving the car, you just know he banged her at the next stop light (limo-sex is primo).
Jesse: "Hey baby, where's your pony?"
Random Jockey Girl: "gigglegiggle. Here, let me take my bra off."
Jesse: "Jesuschristsuperstar, is it really this easy for me? Am I living in some sticky fantasy land where my mere presence causes underwear to fall off of women? Have I reached the point where meaningless sex with strange women has ceased to be in any way enjoyable? Is it possible that a man can have too much casual sex with hot women? A void has opened up in my soul..."
Random Jockey Girl: "bouncebouncebounce."
Jesse: "sob. Please just hold me."
This jockey will soon discover that Jesse isn't hung like a stallion, stallions are hung like Jesse.
Back in Los Angeles, he goes to see the blonde chick, who is about to flee for Mexico. He gives her back her watch and then walks away after giving her a "you don't mess with The Hammer, fool" kinda look over his shoulder. The watch then explodes in a raging fireball. WTF? You know, I don't even care anymore.
The end, baby.
Wanna know how bored I am today? I actually called this taxi cab's phone number today, using what I assumed was the pre-1984 212 area code. 212-931-1500 now belongs to a certain Rebecca Chaver, who works at the Fresh boutique fragrance store on the corner of Broadway and 18th. She seemed nice, I think I'm going to stalk her. [Editor Pam: See, having a hobby really enhances your social life and gives you a reason to get out of the house.]
Written in January 2010 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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