I’m by no means an expert on the so-called ‘blaxploitation’ genre, but this particular title seems to get a lot of play in popular culture. Quentin Tarantino, after all, sampled the title character’s name — not to mention its actress, Pam Grier — for his own Jackie Brown, and generally Foxy is considered an icon of embattled black femininity striking back at an unjust system. Yet for all the rhetoric around it, the film itself is a rather sleazy little piece of low-budget exploitation cinema, as is perhaps hardly surprising.
Undeniably, its saving grace is its star, the luminescent Pam Grier. Even as the minor characters shuffle around in polyester, delivering cardboard dialogue on under-furnished sets, Grier is wonderful to watch and has an ease and charisma that rather shows up the lack of polish elsewhere. She is avenging her boyfriend, a federal agent slain by members of a drug syndicate/brothel headed up by the creepy “Miss Katherine”. It turns out the boyfriend was turned in by Foxy’s no-good drug addicted brother (Antonio Fargas, a jittery livewire, better known for his turn as a pimp in the TV show Starsky & Hutch), just one more weak man in a film filled with them.
Yet it’s hardly any kind of feminist statement, and I would be wary of making such claims. In order to infiltrate the drug ring and take her revenge, Foxy goes undercover as a prostitute and is seen in various stages of undress. Still, if the camera at times seems to leer at her, Grier sends back a pretty grim visage when she needs to, and it’s clear that her revenge will always come even when she finds herself in peril — of which there’s plenty, and some of it rather nasty.
That all said, for what is avowedly exploitation filmmaking, it leaves less of a nasty aftertaste than something like the recent Kick-Ass 2. There’s also a lot more interest to the moral quandaries that the characters deal with, especially in the dynamic between Foxy and her brother, even if ultimately there are some strong elements of stereotyping. Yet the trump card of Foxy Brown, moreso even than many other films in this genre, is the propulsive brass-led soundtrack from Willy Hutch. When it drops in — as it does periodically, breaking up some longueurs — so many other caveats and complaints can more easily be forgotten. Foxy Brown may not be a classic, but it certainly has its pleasures.
Director/Writer Jack Hill; Cinematographer Brick Marquard; Starring Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas; Length 94 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), Thursday 5 September 2013.