The first Shaft sequel has a very similar feel to the original, except that it turns more action packed in the last act. Once again it’s more of a straight detective story than the crazy blaxploitation movie Shaft’s reputation might imply. It all begins with a distressed phone call from an old friend. Next thing Shaft knows his buddy is dead and he’s caught protecting a lady in the middle of a fight to find 200 grand gone missing from a numbers racket.
Of course, Shaft is still a bad mother et al and, proving that he really is the black James Bond, he really starts to show his skills as a womanizer in this one. When he gets that call for example it just so happens that he’s in bed with that guy’s sister! At first that seems like a hell of a coincidence, but then when you consider Shaft’s lifestyle you realize that the chances of it happening are actually pretty high. In fact, here’s an even better example of how much Shaft gets around: In the theme song for this one there’s kind of a “shut yo mouth” moment where you hear a woman say, “He’s trouble, he’s been to my house!” Can you believe that? Even within his own theme song you can find at least one backup singer whose heart he’s broken. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a gal on percussion who just didn’t want to say anything.
The music this time isn’t by Isaac Hayes. Well, he did one song, but most of it is composed by returning director Gordon Parks himself. And this sequel has pretty much all the same strengths and weaknesses as the original. It’s a little dryer than you expect, but Roundtree’s performance, the shots of New York and the funky music all combine chemically to create badass.
This one also has a montage to rival that classic “Soulsville” sequence from the first one. This time it’s of a funeral, and set to jazz music. There are some Bruce Lee style zooms on Shaft and the police detective Bolin (Julius “Sho Nuff” Harris) as they spot each other. It’s one of those potent combinations of photography, music and especially editing craftsmanship that reminds you why you love movies. It’s weird how much art there is just in ending and arranging different shots. The editing can really add energy to a movie or it can knock the whole rhythm off if you do it wrong. This movie does it right.
Shaft meets Bumpy Jonas again, he talks trash to him (including pre-emptively telling him he’s not invited to his funeral) but they kind of work together. The real bad guy is a white mobster who prides himself on playing clarinet. I really respect Mr. Parks for including a really long scene of the dude just sitting there playing clarinet. Not alot of movies like this have the balls to try the audience’s patience with weird touches like that. I’m not being sarcastic, I thought that was cool.
Without the shock of the new SHAFT’S BIG SCORE is in some ways a little weaker than the first one, but for some people it might be more exciting because it turns into a great action movie at the end, and that’s where it really gets James Bond on that ass. I am in favor of chases that involve three different modes of transportation. This one includes land (car), sea (boat) and air (helicopter). Also, John Shaft shoots down a helicopter on purpose long before John Rambo did it on accident in FIRST BLOOD.
Now let me call out a SPOILER ALERT. SHAFT’S BIG SCORE is such a badass title, but I believe in the end it turns out to be kind of ironic. When you hear SHAFT’S BIG SCORE you figure maybe Shaft is falling on the wrong side of the law this time, getting involved in a caper of some kind, but whatever he’s up to he’s gonna go home with a satchel full of cash, right? Wrong. The money was to build a children’s center, he tried to steal it back, and unless I misunderstood he ended up leaving it sitting on the ground somewhere. So as cool as Shaft is this is kind of a sad commentary on his life if this is Shaft’s big score. Breaking hearts and losing money. But looking real good in three different colors of turtleneck.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.