Let me start out by saying that John Shaft was originally a white man. I'm not saying that to "lay claim" to one bad mother... okay, I'll shut my mouth, but I was only talking about Shaft. Can you dig it? Yes, in the novels, he was written to be a white man. It wasn't until the success of Melvin Van Peebles's "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" and the creation of the blaxploitation genre that Warner Brothers got the message that black audiences mattered. Thus, Shaft became a black man. But enough of my Robert Osborne moments; Let's get to the plot overview, eh?
The movie starts with Shaft walking down the street. He goes to get his shoes shined and gets a tip that some people have been looking for him. Shaft returns to his office only to be ambushed by two armed men. John Shaft fights the attackers. One of the attackers throws himself out of a window and falls to his death. I must state for the record that low-budget plummets-to-demise are some of the greatest and funniest things in cinema. The other man is captured and reveals the plan. What a snitch.
A local gangster, Bumpy Jonas (played by Moses Gunn), is trying to get his daughter, Marcy, back from the mafia. Shaft is told to seek help from a local Black Pather-esque group led by a man named Ben. Shaft will need an army and "Ben's got one."
The whole time, the police are worried that a fight between black gangs and the Italian mob will spark some sort of race war in New York City. Shaft reluctantly keeps in contact with the police via Lieutenant Vic Androzzi. The police know something bad is going to happen between the black gangs and the mafia, but they don't know the exact details. Androzzi pleads for information at every turn.
Can Shaft get Bumpy's daughter back? Can the police stop a race war from spilling into the streets? Will there be gratuitous 70s nudity?
There's fist fights, gun fights, falling deaths, molotov cocktails, machine guns, swinging through a window to save a damsel in distress. What more could you want? A song by Isaac Hayes? Sure! It's got that as well. And, yes, there's gratuitous 70s nudity.