Shaft in Africa
Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.
Two large African gents kidnap Shaft (Richard Roundtree) from his New York apartment. He wakes up in a horse's stable, naked and with only a wooden stick for defense. He is attacked by one of the Africans, while the other watches. Shaft is able to hold the guy off just using his stick ("a man named Shaft has to be good with a stick"), until the other guy makes note of the fact that Shaft is circumcised, which distracts our hero long enough for him to be knocked unconscious. Shaft wakes up naked (again!) in a room that simulates desert conditions. In response to this challenge, Shaft buries himself in the sand. This impresses further the Blofeld-like voice that seems to be running things.
Aleme: Oziot has guarded me since I was a child. Sometimes I think of him as my living chastity belt.
Shaft: Damn, a man that size, baby, that's a whole lot of chastity.
One elevator gag later, things presumably get funky.
On a layover in France on his way to Africa, a man dressed as cleaning woman attacks Shaft in a bathroom. Has Shaft's undercover been compromised, or is this man simply opposed to the orange turtleneck Shaft is wearing? (For the love of God, an orange turtleneck!) In any case, Shaft's bacon is saved by another secret agent, and he's on his way.
Hey, you know... Shaft hasn't had sex recently! It's a good thing that Aleme shows up out of nowhere in a pimpmobile. Forget the whole slave-trading thing, Shaft wants to get it on!
Back at our regularly scheduled movie, Shaft hooks up with slavers and travels cross-country. There are a several attempts on his life along the way, which indicates a traitor somewhere in the Emir's staff. The final confrontation between Shaft and kingpin Amafi takes place in France, and features Shaft falling back into old habits of "screw the (white) authorities" attitude and gratuitous (even irresponsible) property damage.
Apart from Roundtree, the surrounding cast is also quite good, in that sort of upper-crust blaxploitation way. Of particular note are the "Shaft chicks" (hey, if Bond can have girls, Shaft can have chicks) who populate Shaft in Africa: McGee's character is seemingly innocent but reveals herself to be alluringly wise, and her, uh, "association" with Shaft convinces her to forgo her upcoming clitoridectomy. (Whew!) Aleme is just the sort of person for whom Shaft could really fall, but of course she would be an African princess and therefore unobtainable. Still, it's a nice dream while it lasts.
Kudos must go to Sterling Silliphant (if that is his real name), the screenwriter of Shaft in Africa. Even if the plot is sort of half-baked, it never stops moving and it's ruthless in its quest to find someone new to knock off. And the dialogue, if it wasn't improvised, is simply brilliant. It must have been the envy of a young Quentin Tarantino, wherever he was. Silliphant gives his characters plenty of dramatically kinetic things to do: they knock down doors (twice!), engage in stick fights, throw naked women into their beds, and generally wreak havoc in the most fantastic ways possible.
If the story is obviously based on the success of the Bond films, the harder edge that Shaft in Africa takes on is certainly due to the influence of the Blaxploitation films that followed in the wake of the original Shaft, like Foxy Brown. The new attitude serves Shaft well. The theme song by the Four Tops asks, "Are You Man Enough?" You better believe he is.