John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson), nephew of the original black private dick (Richard Roundtree), works for the NYPD in typically maverick style. But when a known racist (Christian Bale) escapes prison for murder, Shaft hangs up his badge (or throws it at the judge’s head like a ninja star) so he can close the case on his own terms.
Shaft is one of the original soft reboots. Featuring a new John Shaft who’s very similar to the old one, it’s definitely in remake territory, but with Richard Roundtree still hanging around as this Shaft’s uncle it doesn’t undo anything that’s gone before.
While it makes this effort to remain true to the original, its differences are significant as it turns Shaft into a Samuel L. Jackson vehicle. This means that every scene ends with someone pulling a gun out, and motherfucker is the mot du jour.
Roundtree’s Shaft famously had a way with the ladies, but since Jackson isn’t a natural romantic lead this version wisely plays to his strengths of yelling and punching people in the face. This doesn’t prevent the occasional booty call, but makes his uncle look like Poirot as Shaft indiscriminately shoves a gun in people’s faces to get the information he needs.
While it’s far from a perfect film, it’s really, really entertaining. It’s set up to make Shaft look as cool as possible with dialogue that’s peak Jackson. He’s so charismatic and fun to watch that there’s never a dull moment, and it’s sufficiently anarchic to make this new interpretation of the character work, in spite of blatant police brutality.
It features an impressive cast including Bale, Toni Collette and Vanessa Williams, as well as Jeffrey Wright as a hilariously unintelligible Hispanic gangster called Peoples Hernandez. The direction is less strong, with a slightly tacky look and feel, but it benefits from a great soundtrack which uses Isaac Hayes’ iconic, Father Ted-killing theme song throughout.
The fairly complex crime thriller plot keeps moving even if it does nothing to temper the ridiculousness of it all. Its violent ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach should make those with liberal sensibilities baulk, but unlike, say, Cobra it doesn’t relish in the misery caused by violence and has an altogether lighter tone. The result is a wild ride which is thoroughly entertaining and a must-watch for any Jackson fan.