To get this right out of the way: Shaft, it is not. Heck, it's not even Shaft in Africa. But it's good enough for a temporary kick, like a mild beer buzz. Per its trailer, "Cool Breeze is cold business."
To continue the Shaft math, Thalmus Rasulala (whose other blaxploitation forays included roles in — but not as — Blacula and Willie Dynamite) is this film's Richard Roundtree, playing Sidney Lord Jones. After exiting prison with a triumphant raspberry, he assembles a team of similarly disenchanted and disenfranchised dudes to help him score $3 million in "whitey's ice" — diamonds, to us honkies — partly by using a carbon-dioxide laser one of them "sort of found ... in a government building."
Because the opening credits reveal Breeze as based on the novel The Asphalt Jungle — famously adapted into John Huston's 1950 noir classic — we know that the heist will not go as planned. What I didn't know is that also would mark the end of Breeze being one.
Written and directed by Barry Pollack, whose feature film career more or less began and ended here, the movie is initially a gas, brimming with a funky wit. A sex scene is scored in part to The William Tell Overture as The Lone Ranger plays on TV, and quote-worthy lines include "I could eat you up right here like a bowl of Corn Flakes and champagne. … I wuv you" and, during a debate over team members, "What do you want with that fart-buster?"
And as with any heist movie done properly, the heist marks the highlight. Here, that sequence arrives too early — a function of the original novel, yes, but a tonal change that all but sinks Pollack's efforts. What was lighthearted grows too grim, like a balloon that's lost its helium; the varied personalities seem to level off. The characters' uttering of "chicky baby" is the only consistent element bridging both sides, but that's far from enough. It’s half truly Cool. —Rod Lott