Shaft is yet another sequel (the fourth, if I recall right) to the classic original with the same name. Partly also a remake, the movie is edgy with Samuel Jackson delivering a great performance as John Shaft, but the plot is highly disjointed and unfocused.

John Shaft (Samuel Jackson), the nephew of John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, reprising his original role in a nice cameo), is a New York City police detective who is decidedly angry. The reason for Shaft's anger has to do with the judge allowing Walter Wade Jr. (Christina Bale), a young white boy and the son of a wealthy tycoon with connections, who has murdered a young black boy, to flee to Switzerland. A year later, Walter returns, firmly convinced that his father's influence can get him off. There's a fly in the ointment: Shaft knows that there was a young waitress (Toni Collette) who witnessed Wade commit the murder. To clean the slate, Walter must also silence her and runs into a Latino drug dealer, Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), who he recruits to him in his cause. Aided by fellow detective Carmen Vasquez (Vanessa Williams), Shaft not only must battle Walter and Peoples, but also corrupt officers in the force who are in league with Peoples.

Even though Shaft is supposed to be set in modern times, it is reminiscent of a time where there was a greater dichotomy between blacks and whites. In fact, except for the enhanced technology, one could easily believe the time period was in the early 70s. Part of this is because of the score, which uses Isaac Hayes' classic theme as-is (though today hearing Hayes' voice simply reminds me of Chef from South Park, who in turn reminds me more of John Shaft than Samuel Jackson does, minus the violent aspect).

As I say above, the plot is really sub-par. Shaft himself doesn't have to do much except orchestrate a situation where Walter, Peoples, and the corrupt officers are at each others' throats. However, the movie isn't about the plot---it's about John Shaft, politically corrected for the 90s. The most compelling aspect of the film is Samuel Jackson's portrayal of the crime fighter. When he says "mother fucker", it's done in a menacing way that no one can mimic. Jackson projects cool throughout the film and any deficiencies in the story are easily overcome by his strong presence. Bale, who plays a role reminiscent of the one in American Psycho, and Wright, who has a remarkable accent, make for strong and disturbing villains.

The Shaft phenomenon is considered "blaxploitation", but in my view, it's also quite misogynistic. Regardless of all the pseudointellectual analysis, Shaft is simply great summer entertainment. While the ending left me feeling a bit empty (I'd rather have a seen more prolonged action finale), it was also provocative. I highly recommend the film.

Movie ramblings || Ram Samudrala ||