Private detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is one of the stranger antiheroes in 1970's blaxploitation. At times his principles seem inviolable, as when he repeatedly risks his life for his girlfriend, who has inherited a stable of small businesses and organized crime connections from her murdered brother. But he doesn't think twice about cheating on said girlfriend with the next seductive woman he encounters. Granted, that woman is the live-in girlfriend of the film's chief villain, but I wonder how Shaft's girl would feel about the situation. Aside from his sexual escapades, Shaft would feel at home in any film noir crime flick from the previous decades. Shaft commits at least as many crimes as he solves and is generally a menace to the people around him, but all of this is presumably excused by the fact that he is surrounded by crooks and corrupt cops on all sides, and no one dies at his hands who didn't have it coming to them.
Shaft is truly in his element in this particular flick; the city streets seem colder and grimier than ever. Some of the plot points are particularly contrived, like the fact that Shaft's chick sidekick (the aforementioned villain's girl) has exactly the talents that Shaft needs, when he needs them. Honestly, how many "kept" women with drop-dead looks are also crack racing drivers? Shaft gets his butt kicked at least once in this picture, but that's as it should be: even Bogart's Sam Spade fell prey to overwhelming odds or the occasional drugged drink. The story is pretty complicated, but it comes down to a chase in the end, as usual. At least this one features an amazing cat-and-mouse sequence as Shaft tries to elude a helicopter in an abandoned shipyard.
A lot of the films of the Seventies look grimy and dull because we see them on video with aging film and video stock blurring their original looks. Shaft's Big Score, while not the most vibrant film ever to appear on DVD, is served well by the format because the extra resolution brings out the film's original texture. Sure, everything is brown, but the sheer depth of the different surfaces in the movie almost excuses that fact.
The music in this film is nearly a character unto itself; it's unfortunate that the soundtrack is only mono. Still, turn the balance all the way to one side and maybe you'll be able to imagine yourself at a drive-in theater, watching the adventures of Shaft the way they were meant to be seen.
Shaft's Big Score is woefully short on extras; some commentary by Roundtree or the director would have been most welcome. Instead, we are left with a lonely trailer and a few text pages on the cast and crew. At least the price is right.
Chris Holland, 12/10/00