The Mafia in Los Angeles are making moves on the local authority, ensuring through blackmail and even murder that they get their way. They are trying to buy up some inner city land for a civic centre with the blessing of that authority, a deal which will make them thousands, but the area they are wanting to demolish includes one large building which is holding out against the developers: the martial arts school of Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers). The criminals are not going to let him stand in their way, so it's up to one man to stop them: step forward man of action Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly).
Nobody is going to claim that this is one of the all time great martial arts movies, even with a superb exponent like Kelly as the star, but what it is is a highly entertaining blaxploitation movie. Obviously filmed on a shoestring, it's location filming throughout with the hero walking the mean streets and fully able to handle himself against anyone stupid enough to stand in his way, and that includes some gangsters, though not the cops, as Jones is actually on their side and works for them to clean up neighbourhoods and, in the title sequence, act as bodyguard to threatened officials.
During that sequence Kelly disposes of a bunch of assailants in a car park, making such short work of them that you do wish he had a better opponent to combat as pretty much every thug who throws themselves at him is dispatched with a couple of strikes in a few seconds. Kelly's signature move appears to be to go for his opponents' bollocks, so expect a host of scenes where he boots hapless bad guys between the legs or even goes for that old favourite, the crotch punch. While that may get you thrown out of a typical contest, here it does Jones the power of good in getting one over on the hoodlums.
One thing that is most hilarious about all this is that every good guy, with the exception of the white police detectives and officers, turns out to be an expert in kung fu or karate. This means the most unlikely people busting some killer moves, including the great Scatman Crothers himself, surely in training for his voice work on seventies cash-in cartoon Hong Kong Phooey, although sadly he only seems up to a few punches. Even sadder, his roguish character is bumped off within about twenty minutes, providing the rest of the heroes with their revenge motive against the Mafia.
Along with Jones, it turns out Byrd's daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry from Live and Let Die) is talented in the beating people up department as well, injecting the film with a strong dose of "don't mess with this sister" feminism: when Jones tells her to stay home and do his dishes, she draws her gun and blows the crockery away, intoning "They're done!" Additionally, they share a touching sequence of karate love play amongst the sand dunes, with guitar smashing and rolling about in the sand added bonuses. But it's the proper action setpieces you want to see, and Black Belt Jones doesn't disappoint - if you're looking for laughs, that is. This ludicrousness climaxes in a bit reminisent of a kung fu equivalent of the washing machine skit from Confessions of a Window Cleaner, with Kelly doling out the thumps in a welter of soap suds. If you only know him from Enter the Dragon, then you owe it to yourself to check him out in this; it might not be the most professional, but it is fun. Music by Dennis Coffey (doing the funky theme) and Luchi De Jesus.