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Should I Watch..? 'Shaft' (2000)

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Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the big deal?

Shaft is an action crime film released in 2000 and is a sequel to the 1971 film of the same name. The film introduces a new John Shaft (related to the original character) who quits the New York Police Department to become a private investigator as he battles a legal system rife with corruption as well as a wealthy racist murderer who manages to escape justice. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Bale, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Toni Collette and Busta Rhymes and was directed by John Singleton. The film received a generally positive response from critics and opened atop the US Box Office, going on to earn more than $107 million. This film is actually the fourth film in the Shaft series and would be followed in 2019 by another sequel/remake, also called Shaft, and would also feature Jackson returning to the character in a starring role.

Watchable

What's it about?

NYPD Detective John Shaft is called out to investigate a violent assault outside of a restaurant where the chief suspect is Walter Wade Jr, the wealthy son of a property tycoon. After noticing blood on Walter's clothing, Shaft arrests Wade who claims he acted in self defence. A witness to the assault, terrified waitress Diane Palmieri, refuses to give a statement while a friend of the victim claims that Wade racially abused the pair of them before following them outside and attacking. As the victim suffers a fatal seizure on the street, Wade openly mocks him and Shaft responds by punching Wade - much to the displeasure of his boss who has turned up on the scene. At the trial, Wade dismissively pays his meagre bail and flees the country, openly mocking Shaft as he does so.

Two years later and Wade returns, with Shaft waiting for him at the airport. With Wade under arrest again at the station, he makes the acquaintance of Dominican drug lord Peoples Hernandez while Shaft celebrates with his friends and family. But again, Wade is granted bail and Shaft quits the NYPD in disgust. Determined to make Wade pay for his crimes, Shaft becomes a private investigator and begins tracking down Diane, who has since gone underground. Trouble is, Wade uses his connections with Hernandez to begin looking for her as well...

Trailer

What's to like?

First of all, it helps this more contemporary Shaft immensely if you don't compare it to the ground-breaking original. Not that this version isn't full of social commentary - Singleton's direction may lack the urban grittiness of his Boyz N The Hood but he touches on familiar topics and the film has an authenticity to it that you rarely find in films like this. The film's story allows the film to tackle with the racial issues that were so prominent in the first film but in a more box office-friendly manner than before. It introduces a much-needed element of humour thanks to the charisma of its lead star but thankfully, it doesn't go off the deep end like the hopeless 2019 version did. For the most part, this is a serious film trying to make some serious points and it makes this film a worthy successor.

Much like Richard Roundtree in the original film, Samuel L. Jackson brings all the swagger and attitude the role requires. It's impossible to think of anyone else working who could step into such legendary shoes but Jackson, looking noticeably thinner, excels as the cat that won't cop out. He's also supported by an excellent Wright as the drug-pushing Peoples and the always dependable Collette as key witness Diane. Roundtree himself makes a brief appearance which can't help but raise a smile but at least you don't need to have seen the original film to enjoy this. The film feels part sequel, part tribute and while this half-hearted approach doesn't always work, it pays off in spades here.

Jackson is perfectly cast as the new Shaft, bringing all the swagger and attitude of the original character bang up to date.

Jackson is perfectly cast as the new Shaft, bringing all the swagger and attitude of the original character bang up to date.

Fun Facts

  • Singleton had to be convinced to accept Jackson in the lead role. Singleton's choice for the role was Don Cheadle but producer Scott Rudin insisted a bigger star would be a box office draw. Wesley Snipes and Will Smith were also considered for the role while Singleton also wanted singer Lauryn Hill for the role of Det. Vasquez. Snipes would later publicly blast Singleton for not casting him as Shaft, claiming the film would have been more of a success.
  • Singleton and Jackson frequently clashed on set over the direction of the film as well as with co-writer Richard Price and Rudin. Singleton originally planned for a sequel to the film involving Shaft tackling drug dealers in Jamaica but the film's disappointing performance and Jackson's reluctance to return to the role scuppered the project until 2019's version.
  • Isaac Hayes' iconic theme tune, which won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, also appears on the soundtrack for this film. The Oscar made Hayes the first African-American to win a non-acting Academy Award in any category but his presence this time around couldn't save the soundtrack. While the original album topped the charts, the 2000 soundtrack album only managed to peak at number 22.
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What's not to like?

Unfortunately, there are some aspects which do dampen the film's old-school enthusiasm. Bale is surprisingly disappointing as the slimy Wade who brings plenty of Don Jr-style sleaze to the role but otherwise doesn't feel as much of a threat as Wright's Dominican drug lord. And while Collette does well, she doesn't feel as important to the film as perhaps she should - much like Williams who doesn't bring much to the party either. The film's cameos also don't fully work because those making them are too recognisable - the likes of Busta Rhymes and former pro footballer Lawrence Taylor never really convince you of their roles because it's obvious who they really are. Remember Snoop's cameo in the Starsky & Hutch film with Ben Stiller? Same vibes, sadly.

The soundtrack also underwhelms despite the always welcome presence of Issac Hayes' timeless theme and the film seems to descend into more of a generic action film. But like most remakes or sequels, the film merely imitates the original and fails to match the earlier standards. On its own, there isn't much wrong with this Shaft but as it constantly refers to the first film in style, atmosphere and language, all it ends up doing is feeling like a tribute instead of its own project. The lines between sequel and remake are blurred here and they shouldn't be - a film should be one thing or the other and this Shaft unfortunately can't decide what it wants to be. Despite Jackson's excellent portrayal and Singleton's direction, the film comes across like an apprentice learning to play the master's notes - technically sound but lacking its own innovation.

Wright is superb as the drug-pushing Hernandez but the rest of the supporting cast don't really stand out - disappointing when Christian Bale & Toni Collette are involved.

Wright is superb as the drug-pushing Hernandez but the rest of the supporting cast don't really stand out - disappointing when Christian Bale & Toni Collette are involved.

Should I watch it?

Thanks to a blistering performance from Jackson in the central role, this Shaft might not be the man it once was but it's still worth a watch. We are living in a time when African-American heroes aren't as rare as they were back in 1971 so any new Shaft was unlikely to prove as influential. But this film is still a decent enough effort, with all the bravado and style of the first film in a modern and more-Hollywood style. It's certainly much better than that damned third film but personally, I enjoyed the rough-and-ready style of the first film a little more.

Great For: fans of the first film (or the third if you've somehow missed this one), Jackson's reputation as the coolest guy in Hollywood, undemanding thriller fans looking for a smidge of social commentary

Not So Great For: white American racists, the Trumps, anyone wanting to hear more from Isaac Hayes

What else should I watch?

The original Shaft might not be a cinematic classic but it's importance cannot be understated. Together with Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, they pioneered a new genre of film that came to be known as Blaxploitation which gave African-American viewers a voice in cinema they had been denied for so long. With gritty urban films like Super Fly and Across 110th Street, the genre influential countless filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to even the James Bond series with 1973's Live And Let Die. It made the likes of Pam Grier, Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Roundtree massive stars and continues to influence more modern films such as Django Unchained and Eddie Murphy's recent return to form, Dolemite Is My Name.

What gets talked about less often are the two original sequels to the 1971 version. The first, Shaft's Big Score!, saw original director Gordon Parks and writer Ernest Tidyman returning along with Roundtree as Shaft, this time caught between two warring gangs on the trail of some stolen money. Shaft In Africa followed in 1973 and saw Roundtree's ultra-cool private eye recruited to infiltrate a slave ring smuggling folk to Europe but saw little of the same crew returning a third time. Neither of these films had the same sort of impact the first Shaft enjoyed and have been quietly forgotten over the years. I imagine the same sort of fate for the most recent Shaft, dumped onto Netflix in 2019 and one which almost single-handedly ruined the prestige of this once-hallowed franchise. Jackson and Roundtree return again but this time, Jessie Usher plays a more bookish branch of the Shaft family tree who reluctantly adopts his father's style when the three of them roll into action. It focuses far too much on comedy (which isn't that funny) and couldn't underwhelm more if it tried.

Main Cast

ActorRole

Samuel L. Jackson

Detective John Shaft

Vanessa Williams

Detective Carmen Vasquez

Christian Bale

Walter Wade Jr

Jeffrey Wright

Peoples Hernandez

Dan Hedaya

Detective Jack Roselli

Toni Collette

Diane Palmieri

Busta Rhymes

Rasaan

Richard Roundtree

"Uncle" John Shaft

Technical Info

*based on the novel 'Shaft' by Ernest Tidyman

DirectorJohn Singleton

Screenplay

Richard Price, John Singleton & Shane Salerno*

Running Time

99 minutes

Release Date (UK)

15th September, 2000

Rating

18

Genre

Action, Crime, Thriller

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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