The upcoming release of Black Dynamite, starring Michael Jai White, promises to usher in a renewed interest in blaxploitation movies. A popular genre of films that is historically tied to the 1970s, most people think blaxploitation died off by the end of the decade. The truth, however, is that the genre underwent some changes, only to re-emerge in a slightly different form, but is still recognizable in films like The Last Dragon, New Jack City, Boyz in the 'Hood, and countless direct-to-video titles, many starring rappers-turned-actors. If you require any proof that blaxploitation is still alive in the form of "newjaxploitation," all you have to do is take a look at Blood and Bone, also starring Michael Jai White.
Up until very recently, White has been pretty much a wasted talent in a long list of film and television appearances. Sure, there have been some good parts in some good projects, but until he was allowed to take off his shirt and beat the living crap out of people, he was never being properly used. This was made ridiculously clear in Undisputed II: Last Man Standing--a film that's far better than it really deserves to be--where White was given the leading role. Now, just in time to capitalize on the release of Black Dynamite, White is back in the leading man role with Blood and Bone, where he stars as Isaiah Bone, a supreme asskicking machine.
Blood and Bone starts with our hero in a prison bathroom, as he is about to get shanked by a gang of killers led by Kimbo Slice. Dispatching the bad guys with a spectacular display of foot-to-ass proficiency that will have you hitting the rewind button, Blood and Bone lets you know what it's all about from the very start. Released from prison, Bone settles into the rooming house of Tamara (Nona Gaye), and quickly sets out to make a name for himself in the world of illegal street fighting. Bone hooks up with fast-talking hustler Pinball (Dante Basco), who helps him line up a series of opponents just waiting to have their asses served to them. It isn't long before Bone is a top contender, and must face the hulking behemoth managed by a ruthless gangster (Eamonn Walker), who wants our hero to fight for him in a deadly bout run by a sinister crime lord (Julian Sands). Meanwhile, Bone has plans of his own, which remain a mystery, unless of course you've actually watched a movie or two, in which case you should be able to figure things out quickly.
The most important thing to know about Blood and Bone is that the fight sequences are great. So great, in fact, that it's easy to overlook the other thing you should know about Blood and Bone, which is the script isn't all that good. A predictable plot of implausibility populated by one-dimensional characters is the best way to describe the script, and that's taking it a bit easy. If it weren't for White, who carries the film with his charisma and ability to kick ass so well, and the serviceable direction of Ben Ramsey, then there would be very little differentiating this from a Don "the Dragon" Wilson movie. But Ramsey and White manage to make this movie work, when it could just as easily have failed.
Blood and Bone is not a great film, and there's little chance of it being mistaken for such. At the same time, it is entertaining, and it delivers pretty much all you can reasonably expect from a movie of this nature. The acting is as good as the script can allow it to be, with Walker giving a solid performance as James, the cold-blooded gangster looking to move up in the world. The rest of the cast is a bit of a mixed bag, with ladies Nona Gaye and Michelle Belegrin giving decent performances while serving as little more than reminders of the heterosexual tendencies of the men, Dante Basco doing nothing but grating on every last nerve, and a supporting cast of mixed martial arts fighters looking very tough.
When all is said and done--good, bad or otherwise--there's only one reason to watch Blood and Bone, and that's Michael Jai White. As far as black action heroes go, Michael Jai White is Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly rolled into one bone-bashing, spine-shattering package of badassness. White also holds his own against guys like Steven Segal, Jean Claude Van Damme and all the other leading men to bust heads and kick ass in low budget fare of this nature, and proves himself to be more talented than pretty much all of them. And so while Blood and Bone may not be a great movie, it is definitely entertaining for what it is.
Blood and Bone is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is clear, although some of the lighting seems a bit a dark in a few scenes. Otherwise, the image transfer itself is nice and clean, and there are no noticeable defects.
Blood and Bone is presented 2.0 Dolby Digital in English, with an optional dubbed track in French, and option English and French subtitles. The sound mix is good and even, but the overall levels are low, resulting in the need to turn the volume up more than usual.
"Breaking the Mold: Behind the Scenes" (15 min.) is a standard behind the scenes featurette, and nothing worth getting excited over. Likewise, the audio commentary with director Ben Ramsey, director of photography Roy Wagner and actors Michael Jai White, Michelle Belegrin and Dante Basco isn't all it could be. For one thing there are too many people, and yet frequent bouts of silence where nothing is said, or worse where annoying things are being said. While the film is fun to watch, it doesn't lend itself that much to an audio commentary, and this track doesn't become entertaining or compelling enough to stick it with all the way through.
If you're a fan of bare-knuckle fight films--and who isn't--you'll be hard pressed to find one this entertaining. Michael Jai White is very good in an otherwise okay movie, and that makes Blood and Bone worth checking out.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]