Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A pretty routine blaxploitation movie.
What did I get? What makes sequels so interesting is that they’re money grabs almost as a matter of definition. It makes no difference if the first movie in a series was a calculated can’t-miss or a surprise sleeper — when the principals convene to tell story #2 about a given character, they do so confident of their audience — and of their payday. The telltale antsiness of a wholly original story is invariably replaced by a sense of routine — if you’re lucky, you get relaxed narrative assurance too. Something of the sort is the case with Shaft’s Big Score.
Shaft didn’t excite me too much; the plot was larded down with incomprehensible hubbub, and it seemed to exist primarily so that Richard Roundtree could strut his fine self all over Manhattan. Shaft’s Big Score is a different animal; able to take the protagonist’s appeal for granted, director Parks and scenarist Tidyman indulge in less frontin’ and supply John Shaft with a sturdier, albeit highly familiar, story.
The plot this time is all follow-the-money. A funeral home is blown to smithereens, there’s a couple hundred thousand dollars in cash floating around somewhere — who will get it? Shaft and all the local kingpins spend the movie intimidating one another — and then some. Bumpy, the main power broker from the first movie, finds competition in the form of a local Italian-American gangster named Gus Mascola. Johnny Kelly, brother of the now-deceased funeral director, is lower on the totem pole; cuckolded by Shaft and ridiculed by the other two, he spends his screen time percolating with hapless fury.
My review of Shaft invoked James Bond; if anything, the sequel solidifies the connection. The thing about Bond is that he doesn’t “learn” anything, he doesn’t “grow,” he just is. So with Shaft, who, like Bond, can punch, shoot, and fuck with the best of them (although he does suffer a slo-mo beatdown). Bond and Shaft come fully formed, character development is an absurdity, which may come as a relief to some audiences. Mascola here occupies the Dr. Evil function, suavely tootling on the clarinet and fussily bemoaning his henchman’s lack of couth.
If Shaft’s Big Score is about anything, it’s about the dream of full inclusion of African Americans in the social realm. The relationship between Mascola and Kelly is predicated on the assumption that self-interest trumps ethnicity. Indeed, Shaft is the only one in the movie who consistently brings up race. Shaft’s Big Score is nothing special, but it is engaging — again as with Bond, there’s a sitcom flavor to some of the repartee — and the final reel does supply genuine thrills.
What here smacks of 1972? Oh, most everything — it’s a blaxploitation movie. The score lacks Isaac Hayes, but to my ears it didn’t suffer any.
IMDB score: 6.0
My score: 5
Director: Gordon Parks
Writer: Ernest Tidyman
Starring: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown, Joseph Mascolo, Julius Harris, Joe Santos, Rosalind Miles, Wally Taylor, Kathy Imrie
IMDB synopsis: When Shaft finds out that a dead friend ran a numbers racket out of his legitimate business and left $200,000 unaccounted for, he knows why he has suddenly found himself in the middle of a war between rival thugs. These goons are all trying to take over the territory of the dead man as well as get their hands on the missing 200 grand. Shaft has all he can handle trying to track down the money and, at the same time, keep his friend’s sister from the clutches of the hoods.