Chicago cop Frank Hooks (Fred Williamson) busts smarmy drug kingpin Goldie Jackson (Michael Dante) only to see him walk on a technicality. Later a tip alerts Frank about a $100 million drug deal Goldie has going down. Frank and his partners Davis (John Saxon) and Gordon (Shaft (1971) himself Richard Roundtree, back for another jaunt with Fred Williamson one year after One Down... Two to Go (1982)) stake out the location. In a violent shoot-out Frank takes out most of the gang including Goldie himself. Then the police discover the drug money has mysteriously vanished. Suspicion falls on Frank who denies it was him. After arguing with his superior (Ed Lauter), Frank hands in his badge and gun and sets out to uncover the truth. Meanwhile mob boss Mayfield (Joe Spinell) wants his money back. He tasks his men Koslo (Bruce Glover) and Jumbo (Tony King) to retrieve it. By any means necessary. As a result Frank and his nightclub singer ex-wife (Nancy Wilson) land in danger.
While most of the Blaxploitation stars of the Seventies slowly assimilated into Eighties Hollywood with supporting roles in white mainstream fare, Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson defied the system and played the game by his own rules. Writing, producing and directing his own star vehicles he became something of a cottage industry. While he never scored a huge blockbuster (indeed most of his later films went straight to video) he maintained a steady profile. Enough so a new generation of fans went on to cast Fred in more notable films: e.g. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Starsky & Hutch (2004) and more recently VFW (2019).
As part of his self-styled agenda to reinforce a positive image of African-American manhood in cinema, throughout his career Williamson has maintained three unbreakable (though on occasion: flexible) rules. His characters never die. They win every fight. And always get the girl. Sure enough The Big Score is tailored to Williamson’s persona to the exclusion of pretty much all else. He struts into his first scene wearing a badass white pimp suit, lavender tie and dark blue fedora, chomping on his trademark big cigar, and thereafter lives up to the impact of that super-cool image. However as a director Williamson’s skill set is strictly perfunctory. The man gets the job done but little more. Here the set-up takes forever to get going while the action, at least for the most part, sort of ambles along. Largely letting Jay Chattaway’s rockin’ synth, sax and guitar led score do all the work.
Despite a handful of exciting and/or suspenseful scenes, for the most part the film lacks pace. Williamson shamelessly pads out the run time with slow-motion flashbacks and endless scenes where he cruises around Chicago and ambles in and out of nightclubs listening to laid-back Eighties soul. At one point the whole film grinds to a halt solely to showcase jazz legend Nancy Wilson performing an underwhelming ballad while Fred reflects on its pointed (i.e. atrocious) lyrics. On a more positive note Williamson draws solid performances from a strong supporting cast. Alongside old pals John Saxon, Richard Roundtree (whose character vanishes with no explanation - presumably because he was due on the set of City Heat (1984)) there is the always reliable villainy of Joe Spinell. Also the third act trots out Fred’s frequent sparring partner D’Urville Martin as a reluctant ally. There is at least one exciting car chase and a lively climax where Fred blows up or machineguns everyone in sight before a karate fight with the imposing Tony King. If nothing else The Big Score is worth savouring for an amusing scene in which after roughing up the bad guys Fred gets chased away by an angry little woman.