Despite its focus on the title character, Willie Dynamite is not the kind of gangsta-glorifying blaxploitation opus one might expect. In fact, it's a surprisingly serious drama that downplays sauciness and comic-book violence to focus on the moral implications of ghetto crime and prostitution. However, Willie Dynamite never quite manages to live up to the power of its convictions due to an unfortunate tendency toward melodrama. For instance, the performances frequently go over the top: Roscoe Orman's otherwise compelling and energetic work in the title role is occasionally undone by some tough-guy excesses, and the many police and pimp supporting characters are a bit too broad to be fully believable. Diana Sands delivers the finest performance as Cora, managing to bring a genuine earnestness and flawed humanity to a character that could have been another bland do-gooder. Also, the script piles on tragedy after tragedy on its title character in a way that undermines the story's believability, before capping the tale with an attempt at an uplifting ending that fails to convince. Despite these problems, Willie Dynamite remains compelling viewing for African-American film enthusiasts thanks to inspired direction by Gilbert Moses. He makes great use of convincingly gritty New York locations and creates some energetic set pieces in the process, including a memorably suspenseful chase in a set of tenements. The film also boasts some above-average production values -- the sets, costumes, and vehicles that depict the pimp lifestyle are genuinely eye-popping. In the end, Willie Dynamite lacks the consistency and dramatic strength it aspires to but remains an intriguing time capsule for 1970s cult-film fanatics.