Shaft (2000) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Toni Collette
Director: John Singleton
Screenplay: Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno (based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman)
Review published June 22, 2000
This is, of course, a remake of the classic film from the 70s that kicked off the beginning of the blaxploitation craze that followed for the next few years. Updated to the 90s with a bigger budget, a well-known actor in Samuel L. Jackson (Rules of Engagement, Deep Blue Sea), and the same classic funk soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, the chore of being good seems dismal considering how many times the original SHAFT was raped over the years by far inferior knockoffs. Can Singleton pull it off, especially since he hasn't made a successful film since Boyz N the Hood?
Shaft isn't that far removed from the original in that it was relatively small in scope, dealing with two-bit thugs fighting over who gets to be the big fish in the pond. In this we have Det. John Shaft investigating the killing of a young black man seemingly at the hands of a punk rich white kid, and who uses his daddy's vast wealth and power as a judge to hide behind the law. Only one witness to the crime exists in the form of Diane (Collette, The Sixth Sense), a bartender in the bar the events unfold in. She fingers Walter (Bale, Velvet Goldmine) - the racist in question - but goes into hiding when called to testify for fear of her life. Walter meanwhile has joined forces with Peoples (Wright, Ali), the crook du jour in the Bronx, and together they work with corrupt cops to try to take the case down, leaving Shaft to play a one-man wrecking ball to their ministrations.
Shaft is definitely nothing new. It's basically an updated homage to a keynote film for African-Americans, but doesn't break into any new territory of its own. In a way, this old-school style of filmmaking does make the film endearing, and director/co-scripter John Singleton knows his subject chapter and verse in terms of style and substance.
Like many of the films from which Shaft draws inspiration, little sense can be made of why Shaft seems to live the high life on a small cop salary in the inner city. He has his own chauffer, sports Armani gear, and enough extra cash to handle the case after quitting the force for a good while. Well, I suppose none of this matters since you can't be a "badass" and be "broke as a joke" at the same time, so some suspension of disbelief is in order.
Shaft does come close to being as entertaining as the original, and does have its moments every once in a while, but for the most part it just is too pedestrian to take things to a level of genuine excitement. Fans of the original film will be pleased at the new treatment, especially seeing Richard Roundtree in a cameo role as well as the familiar theme music. Most others may be mystified at why this was remade, since Shaft was an archetype that has been remade in bigger, badder and bolder roles since 1971. Worthwhile but inconsequential viewing.
©2000 Vince Leo