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Junkfood Cinema: Coffy

By  · Published on February 18th, 2011

Junkfood Cinema: Coffy

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; written by a jive-ass honky. In the interest of remaining true to the blaxploitation films I’ve been lovingly lampooning, and inspired by the lyrical stylings of Rudy Ray Moore, I have decided to rap this week’s introduction.

Feel free to follow along below, but to really appreciate the authentic awfulness of my rap, it’s best you hear it aloud. If you haven’t already run screaming from the computer, click below and marvel:

With utter disregard for credibility, it’s Friday suckas so it’s time for J-F-C. In what can be described as the opposite of groovy, I will now subject you all to a terrible movie. Describing its faults ain’t nothing but a thing, but admitting my obscene love for it could land me in Sing Sing. As if this weren’t enough to incense and offend, a disgustingly tasty snack awaits you at the end. So prepare your eyeballs and bid farewell to your diet, Blaxploitation History Month ain’t over yet.

Today’s Snack: Coffy.

What Makes It Bad?

There are those who assert that blaxploitation has a tendency to be racially insensitive. Those people are only saying that because they have eyes that work. But Coffy is not satisfied simply displaying insensitivity toward one group. The film manages to be categorically offensive to Hispanics, Russians, lesbians, Italians, politicians, law enforcement officials, the media, MacGyver fans, prostitutes, boy scouts, and Sid Haig’s mother. It has so many loosely constructed generalizations that it actually invents new stereotypes that didn’t previously exist. You know how every prostitute loves Caesar salad? You know how every mafia boss looks like a transsexual Kurt Vonnegut? No! Because these are brand new stereotypes. Typically in a blaxploitation movie, the station of the villain is occupied by the Italian mafia in order to not-so-directly implicated whitey. But in Coffy, the trio of baddies are an Italian, a Russian, and a Texan; three shades of white. It offends me less as a racial defamation and more as the setup to a truly awful joke involving them walking into a bar.

I have done both the readers and blaxploitation itself a disservice by taking this long to feature a Pam Grier film. This woman is the undisputed queen of the genre and her presence on the screen is one of power and dangerous beauty. That being said, she’s pretty stinky in Coffy. Her line delivery is as wooden as redwood forest and her emotional range hovers between whiny and slightly less whiny. I don’t entirely blame Grier as the dialogue she’s given feels like it was less written as it was spewed forth from a Hackney 2000 Screenplay Generator. If you want to watch the film that perfectly canonizes Grier’s onscreen personality and importance to the subgenre…watch Foxy Brown. If you want to hear her struggle to sound like a real person of any color, watch Coffy.

I’m prone to laud the music in blaxploitation and, for the most part, Coffy is no exception. However it does tend to be a bit on-the-nose at times. Not that this is the first blaxploitation soundtrack to refuse to stand on subtlety, but there are moments that surpass musical exposition and venture into the realm of making the film accessible to the visually-impaired. I think my favorite example would be the theme for a secondary pimp character named King George. As this be-caped, flamboyant “entrepreneur” steps out of his obvious “entrepreneur”-mobile, the song that heralds his entrance is composed of about 20 words; 17 being George and the last three espousing “he’s a pimp.” Thank you theme song, where would we be without your keen insight? On top of all of that, the music is blatantly incorrect at points. Just before the credits roll, the music swells and states, “it’s not the end.” No, actually it is the end Mr. Soundtrack, sir. That’s why the credits are rolling.

Coffy is a classic among revenge films. However, Coffy herself is among the more ineffectual revenge heroes/heroines in cinema history. Granted, the movie begins and ends in a torrent of Coffy-on-sucka violence. But those moments are the bookends of an impossibly elaborate, woefully dull plot to take down those responsible for her sister’s overdose. She goes undercover as a prostitute, working for the pimp who works for the mafia boss who heads up the narcotics trade in order to get closer to him and kill him. But as she spends a good deal of the film trying to establish seduction as her only marketable skill, it seems as if her goal could have been accomplished with far less ruse. Then she finally gets to that point and…forgets to pull the trigger before Sid Haig walks into the room. Without the first and last sequence, Coffy kind of sucks at revenge.

Why I Love It!

That being said, the first and last sequences are phenomenal! The film opens with Coffy, after yet again tricking two men into thinking she wants to have sex with them, shooting one in the face and forcing the other to overdose on his own smack. The practical effect of the head getting blasted into infinity is gorgeous and utterly satisfying and establishes a hard-nosed wraith of vengeance for which we then pine for the next hour. At the end, when she finally emerges again from her weak, ineffectual shell, it’s a bloody parade of revenge that makes the dullness of the film’s middle worthwhile. But even then, she can’t muster the strength to kill her boyfriend who was in cahoots with her enemies the whole time and orders her death until she finds out he’s also cheating on her. So remember guys, aligning yourself with the criminal element that gets Pam Grier’s sister killed will earn you a slight lover’s quarrel. Infidelity will lead to her blasting off your junk with a shotgun.

Girl-on-girl violence is something I take very seriously. I not only ardently believe that the inclusion of girl-on-girl violence has the potential to vastly improve any classic film – from It’s a Wonderful Life to, oddly, 12 Angry Men – but I also have a 32 point system for judging the quality of cat fights. The ho throwdown in Coffy registers about a 9.7 on the Kitty Claw Scale. It starts with an ornery salad toss, which is far more literal and far less dirty than it sounds, and ends with a prostitute with sliced hands from the razor blades Pam Grier hid in her hair. Amazing! What makes the fight all the more enjoyable is the fact that King George, you may recall from the song that he’s a pimp, is wearing an all red and yellow outfit that makes him look like Carmen San Diego; providing an unfortunate answer to the question of where in the world she is.

There is a plot point in the film that is so poorly conceived and handled that, by all rights, it belongs in the upper half of this column. But the sheer epicness of its ineptitude is enough to bring a smile to my meager soul and strike the perfect chord in my greasy black heart. Coffy discovers that King George is far more likely to take her into his stable if he believes her to be exotic. In response, Pam Grier adopts the world’s worst Jamaican accent. It sounds like a child playing at being a grownup by eliminating contractions and using only slightly elevated vocabulary and then slapping the word “mon” at the end of every sentence. Why the director wasn’t able to coach her into sounding even remotely believable is confounding and is compounded by the fact that Sid Haig’s fake Russian accent isn’t half bad. But to Grier’s credit, this film preceded both Cool Runnings and those Red Stripe commercials by many years so the bastions of flawless Jamaican accents were sadly unavailable.

Junkfood Pairing: Coffee

Now this may take some explanation so bear with me. See, her name is Coffy which sounds remarkably like the caffeinated beverage coffee. Okay, that’s enough. If I have any hopes of upholding that ruse, I’m going to need to manufacture a Jamaican accent. But seriously, you may need this Colombian kick start to make it through the middle of the film. It really is rough.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.