Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, March 4, 2017

BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Shaft’s Big Score! (1972)

It's hard to say if the first “Shaft” was made with eyes towards starting a series. Movie studios in the early seventies aren't as franchise crazy as the ones today. Even if that wasn't the plan, Ernest Tidyman's original novel had a number of sequels. So when “Shaft” became a breakout hit, it only made sense to adapt a few of those other books into movies. The producers smartly passed over “Shaft Among the Jews” and skipped ahead to “Shaft's Big Score!,” which hit theaters a year after the first film. Richard Roundtree and director Gordon Parks both return, creating a sequel that was nearly as successful as the original. As far as box office returns went anyway, Shaft was still the man.

John Shaft is awoken in the middle of the night when the phone rings. It's his girlfriend's brother, the owner of a funeral parlor, and he's scared for his life. Later that same night, he dies when his building explodes. Turns out the guy's business partner murdered him, so he could get some quick cash to pay off gambling debts. When that doesn't work, he makes a deal with two separate mob bosses, Gus Mascola and Shaft's old enemy Bumpy Jonas. As the two mob families figure out what's happening, they fight against each other. And John Shaft is caught up in the middle, trying to figure out how to untangle this knot.

“Shaft's Big Score” is a sequel that functions on the “more of the same” principal. It's determined to replicate the things the audience liked about the first movie. So, once again, John Shaft is a bad, black, bold dude battling the mob. Once more, he's a sex machine to all the chicks, getting a lengthy love scene with one of his many girlfriends. The sequel even features a film noir style story line that is intentionally convoluted, a more-or-less simple story that is complicated by extra twists and turns. By replicating the formula of the first movie so closely, “Shaft's Big Score” can't help but generate diminished returns. A certain degree of freshness is missing.

The most noticeable difference between “Shaft's Big Score” and the original is the level of action in the film. The original saved off on any real explosive theatrics until the very end of the film. The sequel, meanwhile, peppers biggest set pieces liberally throughout the run time. The movie starts with an explosion after all. Shaft's gets in more fist fights in this one, including a practically surreal slow-motion beating in the back of a night club. Another fight is almost comical, as Shaft corners an enemy while pretending to be a window washer. Yet the last act is when things really ramp up. A machine gun fight in a graveyard leads into an escalating series of chase scenes. First, we have an energetic car chase. This shifts towards a boat chase before the film concludes with Shaft, on foot, being chased through a construction side by a helicopter. It's an excellent series of scenes and clearly the highlight of the movie.

Even the central sense of cool in “Shaft's Big Score” feels slightly diminished from the first one. Yeah, Richard Roundtree is still a uniquely stylish lead actor, well utilized during the rough-and-tumble action scenes and just as good with the comedic dialogue. Yet the gritty New York setting plays a smaller role, as Shaft spends more time in swanky apartments then down on the streets. The black militant element from the original is entirely dropped, removing an edgy, revolutionary element. Even the score isn't as good either. Isaac Hayes wasn't available so director Gordon Parks composed the music himself. It's leans more heavily on the jazz then on the funk, changing the feel of the film. The central theme song is essentially a weaker reprise of the original, sang by an unenthusiastic O.C. Smith.

“Shaft's Big Score” gets a lot of points for that awesome chase scene and Roundtree is just as good. There are several flashy moments, like a night club performance composed of nude women in body paint and outrageous wigs. When you add it all up, the sequel just isn't as cool as the first one and a little too eager to repeat what worked the first time. Audiences didn't seem to mind too much. Part two made ten million dollars at the box office, major bucks in the mid-seventies, which guaranteed at least one more adventure. [6/10]

[X] Afros or Sideburns
[] Brothels or Pimps
[] Church or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[] Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
[X] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang

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