American International Pictures
Produced by Fred Weintraub
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Written by Michael Allin, Leigh Chapman, Jerry Wilkes and Oscar Williams
Isaac Hayes will always be remembered as the composer of the score for “Shaft” and with good reason. The “Shaft” theme song is as recognizable and as ingrained into pop culture as The James Bond Theme, The Buckaroo Banzai Strut or The Indiana Jones March and Isaac Hayes deserved the Oscar he received for the score. As an example of the power and utter coolness of the “Shaft” theme, John Singleton used it for his version in 2000 totally unchanged and even thirty years later, the “Shaft” theme was still utterly cool shit and I remember the audience in the theatre I saw the Sam Jackson version of “Shaft” totally losing it when the theme song was played.
So maybe when Isaac Hayes saw how much fun Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly and Ron O’Neal were having playing badass black heroes he wanted to join in the fun and I guess that’s the main reason he not only did the score but also starred in TRUCK TURNER, a minor but entertaining entry in the blaxplotation genre of films that dominated much of the theatres in the 70’s and 80’s before the kung fu craze.
Truck Turner (Isaac Hayes) is a bounty hunter who along with his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) works the L.A. ghettos. Truck is a former pro football star that got hurt playing and now has to chase bail jumpers to earn his bread. He’s got a reputation as being one bad mutha indeed and his tag line after he beats the piss outta anybody dumb enough to get in his way is to bellow: “Anybody ask you what happened, tell ‘em you got hit by a TRUCK!” Truck and Jerry are hired by a bail bondsman (Dick Miller) to go after a particularly dangerous bail jumper: a pimp named Gator who is exceptionally violent. Truck and Jerry balk at taking the job but after they’re promised a thousand bucks apiece, they change their minds.
Gator proves to be even harder to find and impossible to catch. They’re forced to kill him and that’s when the real problem starts: turns out that Gator has a stable of the hottest, most money-making ho’s in L.A. and they’re under the thumb of his partner, Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols) who puts a proposition to L.A.’s pimps: the pimp that brings her the head of Truck Turner gets Gator’s million dollar stable of ho’s. Truck Turner is soon confused as he finds himself the target of every pimp in L.A. who tries to whack him while wearing some of the most outlandish outfits you’ll ever see in a 70’s movie.
One of the pimps is a little more dangerous than the others, though. Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto) has his eye set on Dorinda’s stable and he calls in a crew of shotgun wielding hitmen who call themselves The Insurance Company. The call themselves that because once they take your policy they insure that you’re gonna die…
The fun in watching TRUCK TURNER comes from the performances and the really bizarre crew of pimps who try to kill Truck during the movie. One of them is dressed in a checkerboard leather jacket with fur sleeves and a matching Jiffy-Pop hat and actually has the nerve to look surprised when Truck spots him on a fire escape. And Yaphet Kotto sports this plaid fur coat through much of the movie that absolutely has to be seen to be believed. It’s also a hoot watching Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura) really have fun cutting loose and playing a hooker/madam. And Scatman Crothers shows up for a few minutes as a retired pimp and any movie that has The Scatman in it can’t be all bad, now can it?
I liked how Isaac Hayes played Truck as pretty much of a slob and not really all that bright. Truck isn’t much of a thinker, as he prefers to shoot, stab or slug his way out of the situations he finds himself him and let’s face it, not all heroes have to be geniuses or strategic experts. But there’s something charming about Truck’s loyalty to his friends and I really liked the scene where he sets his girlfriend up as a shoplifter since jail is the only place he can think of to keep her safe while he goes after the bad guys.
TRUCK TURNER is obviously dated in its clothing and slang but everybody is having a good time, especially Isaac Hayes. This movie and “Escape From New York” are probably the two movie roles he’ll best be remembered for and I liked him in TRUCK TURNER because he worked with what he’s got: his voice and his eyes. There’s a scene where Truck is walking down a hospital corridor and the camera is focused on his eyes and they look absolutely chilling and communicate quite well that Truck isn’t playing around anymore. But there’s a whole lot of other things to recommend such as the performances of Yaphet Kotto and Nichelle Nichols who have so much fun with their roles you wish they had more screen time. And there’s a white one-eyed pimp named Desmond (John Kramer) whose rhinestone eye patches match his cowboy shirts, which is one the movie’s best and funniest running gags. In fact, there’s a lot in TRUCK TURNER that might make you think this is a spoof of the blaxplotation genre, especially with the fantastically overstated outfits of the pimps, the cars, the scene where Nichelle Nichols trots out her girls and brags about how much they made last year and the wildass shootouts where Truck wields a .357 Magnum with as much psychic ability as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry since the both of them apparently share the ability to know when somebody on the roof of a building across the street is aiming at them.
So should you see TRUCK TURNER? If you’re a fan of blaxplotation or of really good cheesy 70’s action movies like me then, yeah. TRUCK TURNER is by no means a classic of the blaxplotation genre but if you want to see Isaac Hayes try his hand at being an action hero or just want to dive into the blaxplotation genre then be my guest and check it out.