Saturday 14 December 2019

Movie Review: Shaft (2000)

A next-generation sequel and reboot, Shaft reaches for a cool vibe but stumbles on shallow stock characters and a dull story.

In New York City, detective John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) roughs up snotty and racist rich kid Walter Wade Jr. (Christian Bale), who has just been arrested for a murder. The only witness to Wade's crime is bartender Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette), and she immediately goes into hiding. Walter is released on bail and promptly flees to Switzerland. Two years later Shaft tangles with local drug gang leader Peoples (Jeffrey Wright), then re-arrests Wade as soon as he lands back on US soil.

Again the justice system fails and Wade is released on bail, enraging Shaft who quits the force and vows to pursue private justice. Wade wants to silence Diane before she testifies against him, and hires Peoples to do the dirty work. Shaft gets help from detective Vasquez (Vanessa Williams) and taxi driver Rasaan (Busta Rhymes), but has to overcome crooked cops Roselli (Dan Hedaya) and Groves (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) in his quest to find and save Diane.

The original Shaft spawned two sequels, but after 1973's Shaft In Africa the series fizzled along with the blaxploitation sub-genre. A full 27 years later the 2000 entry picks up with the nephew of the original character in the lead role. Richard Roundtree does get to reprise his star-making turn in a few incidental scenes, still as a private investigator and now waiting for his nephew to experience the futility of working within the system.

The problem with Shaft in 2000 is its utter routineness. Director and co-writer John Singleton is unable to elevate the film beyond standard-fare Hollywood-style police work and masculine posturing, with frequent nods to broken officialdom perforated by corruption and justice tilted heavily towards white rich people. These are well-worn themes, and no amount of profanity (in almost every sentence) can elevate the film towards a new edge.

The script certainly does not help. The find-the-witness central quest is misplaced into an environment where scores are settled with bullets flying around every corner and dead bodies piling up on the street. The thought that after all the killing some sort of court case will determine Wade's fate is quaint, and too thin a thread to hang a film on. The complete absence of any character backstories adds a lightweight feel to 99 minutes of superficiality.

Samuel L. Jackson slices through the film oozing self-confidence but lacking any depth. Singleton delivers a few deft directorial touches and handles the frequent shootouts with decent cohesion, and Isaac Hayes' classic Theme from Shaft enlivens the otherwise forgettable soundtrack. But rather than a cool cat, in 2000 Shaft is just another angry cop.

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  1. wanted to correct you that Vasquez was played by Vanessa L. Williams, not Michelle Williams


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