There were bigger male stars to come out of blaxploitation cinema, but the true figurehead from that era has to be Pam Grier. No discussion of the period can take place without mention of her name, her films are among the best remembered, and Jim Brown did not look near as good exacting street justice as an undercover hooker to avenge the death of an addicted sister. Some argue this point but I’ll take Pam poolside over the former football star any day.
Things tapered off from the seventies for Pam and she lived out her life as a trivia answer while subsisting on bit roles in largely forgotten films. But then a wormhole of logic opened in Hollywood when a shut-in video store clerk rose to prominence, bringing many of his obscure celluloid obsessions to the big screen.
While Pulp Fiction had the nation vibrating with excitement it was followed by a more sublime effort from Quentin Tarantino,
Jackie Brown, starring the Coffee-hued actress in the title role.
Quentin succeeded here by not overflowing the script with arcane dialogue and by staying true to the source material, Elmore Leonard’s sharp novel, Rum Punch. The biggest change was shifting the blonde stewardess character to Grier’s bold personification and she won raves for her performance, even keeping pace with Robert Forster as he nabbed a nomination from the Academy for his role as a bail-bondsman. Hollywood was ready to roll out red carpets for the diva and maybe even forgive her for appearing in the “Blacula” sequel.
The shame here is that Grier could not parlay that buzz into a headier history. In the wake of that film her most notable roles were in “Pluto Nash” and Bones with Snoop Dog—her one “hit” was appearing in the kid-froth “Snow Day”. Added to this list is the forgotten “Wilder” where Grier is typecast and looking mostly bored delivering rote material. Detective Della Wilder lives up to her name by being quick tempered and slow to remember suspect’s rights while working her streets. She’s a difficult gal to warm up to and most people seem rather fed up with her act, but she is framed as some sort of female empowerment model so we have to like her, I guess.
Across town a woman is shown in her apartment getting killed and stuffed into a suitcase and the police instantly deduce the killer may be “The Love Doctor”, also known as Dr. Rickey, also known as Rutger Hauer. The reason he is suspected is that he is the victim’s ex-husband, but the reason he is called “The Love Doctor” is not made clear, apart from the fact that he is the most famous gynecologist in town. Speaking for most men, I think a husband would be wise to forbid their betrothed from getting examined by an OB-Gyn tabbed as “The Love Doctor”…or who looked like Richard Gere.
Dr. Rickey has a young partner with connections in the pharmaceutical industry and he dispenses dangerous amounts of free samples to friends. Despite looking like an assistant manager from Radio Shack he is touted as an operator who beds numerous married women. During one such rendezvous at the doctor’s studio he is murdered in his boxers and this makes things even pricklier for Dr. Rickey because it means detective Della will come storming into his office and scaring the patients while making pointed accusations.
The only enjoyment in “Wilder” is Rutger Hauer, who plays the good doctor with a casual confidence, and casually lets it be known that he has a growing affection for the Amazonian detective. At one point most of the police are convinced he is guilty and he then saunters into the police station and just before being cuffed he asks Della for a date with a bouquet. This is excusable behavior because unlike the audience he is not privy to Della’s self-destructive—I mean boldly empowered—personality. She bickers with other cops, bosses her partner around, and when she suspects her next door neighbor is beating on his woman she breaks into his apartment and beats on him. However this inspires him to press charges and she soon has an eviction notice to contend with, putting her kids into the street.
However she slowly begins to warm up to the doctor and before too long he has her convinced of his innocence. They try to figure out who is behind the murders and together conclude that the best way to get answers will be to perform an autopsy on the body of his ex-wife before the corrupt DA’s office buys off the county coroner. The dysfunctional couple breaks into the M.E.’s office and Della allows the primary suspect to gain access to the primary evidence, and all because she thinks he looks pretty good in those Dockers slacks. Rick finds some evidence pointing to a failed test-marketed drug and before long the case grows into a conspiracy so big that it would take a collective effort of The New York Times, Interpol, and Mother Jones Magazine to resolve it all. Considering that a multi-national drug company is involved with stealing radioactive materials and covering up the deaths of patients by having the District Attorney on their payroll, you can imagine the uphill battle one detective and a suspect on the lam will face.
The dark forces kill Dellas’s partner, and then target the doctor himself, and eventually threats are made on Della’s children. But to be honest, after angering a murderous syndicate, risking her job, and getting kicked out of their home while almost getting arrested I tend to think their mother is enough of a risk. But in true Hillary Clinton spirit Della’s vituperative nature wills out where no one else would have had a chance and we are left to revel in a happy resolution.
Gloria Steinem, if you are watching, with Della “Wilder” you may have your next cover girl.
I mean lady.
No, I mean woman…woman–your next cover woman.
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