Exploding onto the scene in 1971 with possibly one of the most notorious theme tunes in cinema history, Shaft grabbed everybody’s attention thanks to his slick threads, confident attitude and the fact that he took shit from nobody, especially white cops who “his kind” needed a firmer hand. Plainly put, the movie was a sensation and one of the building blocks the entire blaxploitation genre was built on, so the idea of having a second outing for the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks was essentially a no-brainer; and sure enough, with Richard Roundtree reprising his iconic role and Gordon Parks resuming directing duties with a bigger budget, it was time for audiences to taste some more Shaft. Don’t expect any apologies concerning my phrasing either…
Benevolent numbers racketeer Cal Ashby rings up old buddy John Shaft looking for aid as he rightly believes his life and the life of his sister is in grave danger. His sister, Arna, is in blatantly safe hands as Shaft is actually in the middle of boning her when Cal rings, but Cal himself isn’t quite so lucky and is rendered decidedly dead when a bomb goes off in his office and after the cops and Cal’s crooked business partner, Kelly, trawl through the wreckage, it’s discovered that a sum of $250,000 is missing, the exact amount in gambling debts that Kelly owes Gus Mascola, the clarinet playing mob boss who wants to get in on their racketeering ring.
Even though Shaft has a vested interest in the murder (aside from banging the victim’s sister) he’s still brought in by the impatient Captain Bollin who fills him in on the background of the case; and even though Cal was on the make, he would alway make sure that the majority of the cash would go back into the community and was even planning to use it to fund a child care clinic. Kelly on the other hand, has no such noble intentions (no shit, it was him that set the bomb!) and will jump through any amount of hoops set out for him by Mascola if it will mean his debts are cleared, so Shaft sets out once again to stop the mob trying to get a claw hold in Harlem by either sleuthing, shooting or seducing any thing he can to crack the case.
But protecting Arna, locating the missing $250,000 and simultaneously bitch slapping the mob isn’t going to be easy, especially as notoriously shifty crime boss Bumpy Jonah is sniffing around, seeing if there’s any angles he can take advantage of.
It all ends in a showdown where it’s Shaft versus Gus’ goons on the streets of New York that involves car chases, sniping helicopters and roaring explosions – can the man who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about live up to his own hype?
In many ways Shaft’s Big Score! is superior to its game changing predecessor; it has better production values, far more epic action and Richard Roundtree is much more settled in the title role as he strides through New York, casually annoucing to police officers that they can righteously kiss his derriere – and yet there’s something missing in among the slang and shotgun blasts.
Maybe it’s the fact that Issac Hayes only offers up one song this time instead of crafting the whole score or maybe it’s the film is lacking the suprise factor the first had, but Shaft’s Big Score! plays more like a standard 70’s thriller that just happens to have a predominantly black cast than something that feels more home grown. The story also feels more direct and less twisty the way a detective story is supposed to be with all the heroes, villains and everyone inbetween (Bumpy, I’m looking at you) being pretty much laid out from the beginning.
Shaft isn’t even that good a detective in this movie either, with his prime mode of figuring shit out is to have sex with the jilted lover of whomever he’s trying to get dirt on and hope that his lovemaking skills are up to the job – whichever way, it sure redefines the term private dick in an amusing new way…
All that lovemaking must be making him tired too as Shaft’s usual slick method of dealing with the bad guys seem a little less polished than what we’ve seem from him before. In the first movie he took out an entire gang of kidnappers with the aid of a militant gang before they even knew what was going on – here there’s a scene where Shaft, hoping to put the frighteners up mob boss Mascola, simply climbs through his penthouse window undercover as a window washer and beats the shit out of him.
With that being said, while the extended action finale is hardly highbrow, it is a rip roaring, batshit crazy sequence that hurls common sense aside and goes all out with a car chase that contains thugs, helicopters, boats and a handy scatter gun wielded by Shaft that blows alarmingly huge craters in anyone unlucky enough to get caught in its death spray – it’s ridiculously cool and even preempts a vaguely similar scene seen in Bond flick For Your Eyes Only that also saw some reckless chopper flying in an urban environment.
Roundtree once again brings the style we expect from the immaculately dressed hero and we get the welcome return from Moses Gunn as the delightfully two faced Bumpy Jonah, buy as an added treat we get Julius Harris – best known as claw-armed henchman Tee Hee from blaxploitation-themed Bond flick Live And Let Die – as cantankerous Captain Bollin and Joseph Mascolo – the chief shark denier from Jaws 2 – as the suprisingly classy villain who’s partial to weirdly ineffectual dressing gowns.
The swap of better action in exchange for a sizeble chunk of of the original’s charm isn’t fatal – god knows it didn’t slow Dirty Harry’s roll much – but compared to the first movie’s defiantly iconic nature it’s just a standard case of cops and robbers.
I’m talkin’ about Shaft, and I can still dig it… just.