Shaft In Africa/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
The original Shaft was the first Blaxploitation film I ever saw. Although the tagline of the film is "Cooler than Bond. Hotter than Bullitt", I was a little disappointed since I thought it would be an action-packed kind of film. Recently I watched it again and I enjoyed it since it reflects race issues and poverty during the early 70's with an intense script that relies more on the dialogue than shootout sequences and has a memorable score by Isaac Hayes. That's when I realized that Shaft was one of the pioneers in the Blaxploitation genre due to the fact that it spoke to the African-American audiences at the time. Since its release, there were many flicks that tried to do the same by putting Black actors in their movies and usually had scripts that addressed the issues of racism. Some were good, some were bad, and some are overrated (personally, I think Dolemite fits into the last category). Nonetheless, the Shaft franchise was surprisingly still going on after the first hit with two more sequels and one TV series. I've never seen the TV series, but I've heard that it had an interesting premise that was ahead of its time, such as an episode about a group of white guys who pretend to be black and rob a bank and Shaft has to catch them. What about the sequels? I remember I tried to watch Shaft's Big Score the first sequel and I stopped halfway through since it tried too much to be like the first movie and the script wasn't strong enough to attract me. That made me nervous a little bit when I was about to watch Shaft In Africa since many reviewers say that it's the weakest film in the franchise. To my surprise, this is actually the most entertaining film in the Shaft trilogy!
Our anti-hero private detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is back in action once again. This time it's not about kidnapping or murder, but an investigation of the slave trade rings in Africa and France. In order to get information Shaft doesn't walk around town and talk to people. He literally becomes a James Bond-esque kind of spy and has to infiltrate the evil organization himself as an African who wants to get traded.
Okay, there are few interesting points here. First, instead of getting some secret service officer that is heavily trained and has experience in the field, why do they pick the anti-hero detective who doesn't give a shit about the establishment? If you've seen Shaft, you might remember that there are many scenes in which he makes fun of police officers (mostly Lt. Vic). This time, Shaft is kidnapped and then tested on his ability to do stick fighting and use his wits (by putting him in an extremely high temperature room with sand all over place to see if he can survive hot weather). After Shaft passes the tests, they offer him the job! Although the logic sounds weird, that's nothing compared to what I'm about to tell you. Remember when I said that "he literally becomes a James Bond-esque kind of spy"? Well, after he arrives in Africa, an officer talks to Shaft and then gives him gadgets like a stick that can be used as a camera, a grenade launcher and a secret tape recorder that can be used by touching the knob on the back. It's so weird that even Mr. John Shaft himself says...
"Now, wait a minute. I'm not James Bond. Simply, Sam Spade."
It's rare when a film has that kind of self-aware style of humor. After all I have no problem with the new direction of Shaft here. Why? The pacing is much faster than previous films and it has lots of action sequences that will pump you up. Not only is it bloodier than the two previous Shaft movies, but some of the scenes are kinda shocking as well. There's a scene in which Shaft and his dog arrive at the slave ring in Africa while lots of people are waiting in line to do a slave registry. Unfortunately, the poor dog seems to hate the guard so it runs out and jumps on him. The next thing we see is the poor dog getting beaten (off-camera folks, don't worry) by the guard. This pisses Shaft off a lot so he does a stick fight with the guard and wins. As you can see, this is an unapologetic movie that tries to appeal to mainstream audiences who are familiar with typical Hollywood action flicks. It has fight scenes, shootouts, bad-ass one-liners, and hot chicks. Besides Vonetta McGee (I knew her first from Repo Man), there's another sexy character named Jazar, played by Neda Arneric. From what I understand, she's the girlfriend of the main villain here, but due to the power of our private dick (pun intended), she decides to go out and make love with him during their journey from Africa to the slave ring in France. She tries every possible way to get laid with Shaft. At that point, I wasn't going to be surprised if she repeatedly said "Fuck me!" like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
To be fair, this film still has interesting social issues although it's not as intense as the first film. I'm talking about the slave trade in the movie. It might not be as ridiculous as portrayed (like the bad guy has his own enormous base to operate the ring), but I have a feeling that stuff like this was still going on in the 70's. Plus, the best dialogue in the whole film comes from Shaft when he finds out that the place where slaves stay is burned down. This is what he says to local police officer...
"Fuck the law! What is the law doing about the shitheads who charge a hundred francs a month to stay in a crap house like this. Why don't you really clamp down on the slave trade? I'll tell you why. Because the black ghettos of Paris is as far away from the Champs Elysees as 125th Street is from Park Avenue! You need a bunch of po' bastards to work on your roads and in your goddamn kitchens! So, don't lay any of that law will punish 'em shit on me!"
That dialogue alone sums up everything, from the reason why the villain likes to trade slaves to the inequality of the officers in terms of crime. It's not only the best dialogue from this film, but probably in the entire Shaft franchise.
In conclusion, this has become one of my favorite Blaxploitation genre movies (besides Truck Turner and Coffy). It may not as popular as the original iconic film, but it's much more entertaining and has more rewatchability. If you want to introduce someone to the genre, this and those two other films I mentioned are a very good place to start. Recommended.
Nuttawut Permpithak hails from Thailand. He spends his free time watching exploitation films (or any films from the past) writing articles, taking photos and reviewing films for GCDb.