Fed Agent Billy Dee Williams is still grieving for a daughter lost to drugs when he pulls up short in the middle of thrashing a local dealer. One more punk off the streets, what’ll that do? What’s really needed is a major offensive against the slick cartel of drug operatives working out of Marseilles. But he’ll need a fresh team of undercover agents to pull it off. That’s the set-up for this weirdly constructed revenge story from Sidney J. Furie, a director who coarsens everything he touches. The main gag in this one is the unlikely assortment of helpers Williams recruits (each a victim of the drug trade in one way or another) and the ad hoc plan Williams puts into place. (One character, a recovering drug addict, has to walk into a restaurant and instantly get hired as a waitress before walking into a dress shop and instantly starting to work as a fashion model.) Fortunately, a frisky cast was hired to play the ex-cons & lawmen (Richard Pryor mumbling asides like some hip inner-city W. C. Fields is a standout), but too much goes unexplained while a deadly finale is more ridiculous than suspenseful. Furie does his best work toward the end of the second act, suddenly switching the tone to comedy, especially welcome in a neatly played car chase sequence with Williams and a pair of comic hit men. Then, back to Marseilles for more sneering at those entitled drug lords. If there’s a mid-point between sledgehammer & subtle, Furie hasn’t found it.
DOUBLE-BILL: No doubt, this one was pitched as a side story to the wildly successful THE FRENCH CONNECTION/’71, yet in some ways it prefigures FRENCH CONNECTION II/’75.