Blaxploitation films are so frequently ridiculed and parodied (much of it with reason) these days, that it’s easy to forget that some of them were actually pretty good. Shaft (1971) paved the way for the sub-genre with its strutting bad-ass lead who’s a sex-machine to all the chicks, and Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning score (for what he will forever be best remembered for). Hayes himself steps into the lead role here as ex- American football star and bail bondsman Mac ‘Truck’ Turner, who according to Yaphet Kotto’s bad-guy pimp Blue, is “like a bulldog with eyes up his ass!”, and displays some surprisingly charismatic qualities that makes it quite a shame he didn’t appear in more.
Greasy lawyer Fogarty (the great Dick Miller) employs bounty-hunters ‘Truck’ Turner and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks – with the best grin in cinema) to track down a low-down pusher and pimp named Gator (Paul Harris). After an extended chase scene, Turner and Jerry manage to kill Gator, much to the dismay of Gator’s lady Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols – Uhura!). Dorinda rounds up the big pimps and offers her valuable collection of whores in exchange for Turner’s head, a deal in which Blue accepts. Wanting to settle down with his girlfriend Annie (Annazette Chase), Turner finds his life turned upside when Blue employs a gang of hired killers.
Beginning almost as a buddy-comedy, the witty script and some genuine chemistry serve up some amusing early scenes, showing off Hayes’ natural screen presence. But this turns into pure police procedural blaxploitation as the main plot kicks in, with jive-talk, pimps in some of the most delightfully ludicrous dress I’ve ever seen, car-chases, slow-motion shoot-outs, cocaine, hookers, and of course a tragically neglected soundtrack from Hayes himself. The action scenes are surprisingly good, and Corman protégé Jonathan Kaplan (director of fellow Grindhouse Project feature Night Call Nurses (1972) – review #443) makes sure he includes as much slow-motion men falling off rooftops and gushing fake blood as possible. Bloody good fun, and probably better than Shaft.