Sequels, like the slick private dick that gets all the chicks himself, always have that pressure to perform when the heat is on. No matter if you’re John Wick or Freddy Krueger, the second you start racking up those follow-ups you have to keep coming back bigger and better than before until you reach terminal velocity and sharks are prepared to be inevitably jumped as any realism the original had is jettisoned in favour of flashier plots and bigger set pieces. Some characters rise to the challenge – James Bond for example has survived after hurling himself over killer fish numerous times – while others collapse under the strain of the rising tide of ridiculousness and the initial lure of the lead character starts to wane…
This brings us to John Shaft’s third outing; a movie that hoists the private investigator out of his native New York and deposits him in the motherland of Africa that attempts to turn him into full fledged action hero with mixed results.
John Shaft finds himself hired to bust a modern day slaving ring in the most HR unfriendly way possible when he wakes up stark bollock nude as finds himself having to complete various challenges like trying to survive in unbearable heat and trying to fight for his life while his other shaft dangles in the wind. Soon it’s revealed that these strange tasks are to measure the odds of his success when undergoing a secret mission to Africa and France to break up the operation of Amafi who has been recruiting young black men for employment and then shipping them over to Paris to work hard labour for a pittance and live in slum conditions.
Shaft is prepped for his mission by Colonel Gonder and brought up to speed on African customs (including a brief and uncomfortably casual lecture on clitoral circumcision among the casual flirting) by his sensual tutor, Aleme and before you know it he’s up to his neck in the motherland as he goes undercover to try to and get himself hired by the very organisation he’s trying to smash.
The job won’t be easy though and standing in the way of Shaft obtaining the evidence he needs are large amounts of muscle, guns and the slinky form of Amafi’s insatiable squeeze
Jezar, who can achieve orgasm just by watching black men do hard labor – you’re not gonna see that on one of Simon Cowell’s talent shows…
As Shaft fights for his life and the lives of his brother men against a truly heinous foe, he will be physically tested like never before – but enough about the copious amounts of pelvic thrusting he gets to indulge in with various stunning women; the mission is pretty tough too…
Making Shaft shift from gritty New York detective to international spy may initially seem as far fetched as making a bunch of street racers submarine destroying secret agents, but the Fast & Furious style blow-up makes a certain amount of sense. Essentially a Black Bond in all but name (he’s even gifted with gadgets), Shaft In Africa is a logical step in taking the series to the next level that truly might have been on to something if the sheer glut of blaxploitation releases at the time hadn’t caused the bottom to eventually drop out of the genre. Also, both this and the blaxploitation-themed Live And Let Die were released in the same year which certainly couldn’t have helped – but taken on its own merits, there’s certainly much to recommend about Shaft’s third outing.
For a start, the globe trotting antics actually makes John’s already gritty adventures substantially more dangerous as the the streetwise P.I. has to adapt to an entirely new street entirely – in fact, even his hugely questionable hiring involves matters life of death; certainly, nothing will quite prepare you for the sight of Richard Roundtree involved in a vicious stick fight while being bare ass nekkid practically the second the opening credits end. Quite why the movie seems to be so obsessed with having its hero run around in his birthday suit I’ve no idea but rest assured he sheds his clothes for more traditional reason too as this movie’s certainly the horniest Shaft’s ever been. Not only does he take (and give) strict instruction to the delectable Aleme but he has to contend with the voracious Jezar who’s chat up lines consist of the stunningly forward “How long is your phallus, Mr Shaft?”. To his credit, Shaft’s response of “Baby, by now it’s shrunk down to 20 inches.” is fucking legendary… And of course their coupling results in a very Bondian attitude change for the villainous nymph.
However, the epic face lift and more lavish sex and violence ultimately proves to be a double edged fighting stick and Shaft In Africa lets down its promising premise by aryally being quite slow and deliberate, especially when compared to rambunctious finale of the previous movie Shaft’s Big Score. Also, the added social ramifications created by the villianous slave ring plot kind of rubs awkwardly against the globe trotting adventure, especially in the truly uncomfortable scene where a large group of young African slaves burn to death in a fire in a Parisian slum. While this does manage to drive home the social and racial stakes of the script, it also is the exactly the sort of thing a movie hero like Shaft should be stopping from happening, otherwise why make this kind of escapist fare in the first place? Also the film suffers somewhat for ditching some of Shaft’s established side characters; there’s no Bumpy Jonah, Capt. Bollin or Vic Androzzi to trade jibes with and as a result the film loses a little too much of its old identity.
Roundtree still owns the role, managing to find moments of vulnerability here and there for the usually unflappable detective – although it’s regrettable that his sweet relationship with a stray dog ends with what appears to be an actual dead pooch – and it’s a genuine shame that his youthful tenure in his iconic role essentially stopped here if you don’t count the cancelled TV show or his roles in the Sam Jackson reboots.
As the credits roll and The Four Tops demand to know “Are You Man Enough” to their particular brand of Motown, John Shaft still manages to answer a definitive yes while risking his neck for his brother man like never before, but you can’t help but feel his invasion into James Bond territory could have used a bit more action for your satisfaction.