Movies From the Black Lagoon: Night Caller

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Night Caller - 1993, Rated R
By Tom Doty

A private detective locks horns with a sadistic killer when his ex-wife winds up on the radar of a sick puppy who is targeting the staff at a phone sex hotline.
Miami is the setting for this tame thriller that occasionally provides a few thrills thanks to the talents of director, and star, Fred 'the Hammer " Williamson.
Williamson has always been an engaging performer. His acting career began after he left professional football and he landed jelly side up when Robert Altman cats him alongside Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould in "M.A.S.H." Next came the wave of African American genre films of the early seventies. The Hammer then moved on to Italy to continue making genre films when he trend here petered out.
Fred eventually came home and opted to make his own movies since Hollywood wasn't offering action franchises to the guys like him and Jim Brown. "Po Boy " productions became his banner and this film was one of a dozen that he made on his own terms. These films may not be high art but they are fun to watch and often feature other performers whose stars burned brightest in the 60's and 70's.
This effort casts Williamson as Derringer, a private detective saddled with a hulking goofball partner, Lenny. Unfortunately they haven't had a case in five weeks so Lenny opts to jet down to Jamaica for some happy time while Derringer stays behind. Things get busy in a hurry when a woman gets killed at the phone sex joint where his ex works. A run in with a local hood and Derringer's efforts to halt a protection racket complicates the case. He doesn't even make any dough off the workload though a local businesswoman is ready to reward his efforts to get the hoods out of her strip mall by stripping herself so Derringer can maul her.
The cases eventually come together (thanks to his friends who are more than happy to all of Derringer's leg work so he can get busy with the ladies). This band includes a street corner rapper, a tough cop with a crush on the ex-wife, and a bar tender who played football with Derringer back in the day. It all leads to a shoot out or two and most of the case wrapped up but there are a few surprises along the way, which include a unique variation on what happens when the villain uses a woman that our hero loves as a shield. It doesn't end well for the shield but it's a powerful scene and a decent wrap up.
This film gets some stuff right. The locations are scenic, the cast are game, and a few of the action scenes are pretty good. Unfortunately the plotting is plodding and a last minute duct up between Derringer and Lenny is poorly staged. That's especially maddening since Gary Busey plays Lenny and hasn't had a god fight scene in a flick since he battled Mel Gibson in the rain during the conclusion of 'Lethal Weapon." That said there are nice cameos by Stella Stevens, Henry Silva, and Robert Foster (particularly good as the cop who holds a torch for Derringer's ex-wife). Worth a look and available for less than five dollars at most bargain bins.
Best Line: "I can breathe underwater, turnip head."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.