The minute “Shaft” starts, you’re transplanted to a groovy, dirty, undeniably thrilling New York City from the early 1970s, the kind of grimy, electric setting that speaks for itself and everything is made all the funkier by the Oscar-winning theme song by Isaac Hayes that’s just as memorable today as it’s been for decades. Richard Roundtree’s legendary appearance as John Shaft is the kind of performance that probably felt instantly iconic even upon its original release: He struts on to the screen like he owns the damn place, and you’re instantly captivated by his confidence and smoothness – I mean, even dressed head to toe, he just oozes sex appeal, and you’d watch him just go about his business for two hours and call it a great movie. There’s a plot involving a turf war between a drug kingpin and the Italian mafia, and how Shaft is dragged into the mud is impressively layered from a structural perspective as it leads to a series of escalating, increasingly grisly gun fights that are both engaging and entertaining as all hell. There are some pacing issues here and there (although I suspect that’s likely because the movie is dated) that prevent it from being as entertaining as, say, “Coffy,” but it’s a good time all around.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)