"You ain't even a cop no more"
"You think that makes me less dangrous, or more dangerous?"
Don't tell John Shaft violence never solves anything. He knows better. Whether he's dealing with a low level drug dealer or a wealthy murderer, violence is his tool of choice, and it usually gets the job done.
Samuel L. Jackson, as John Shaft, is the epitome of cool, but we expected that. What comes as a surprise is how many other good performances fill the film. Villains who could easily be two-dimensional caricatures are instead real, believable people, and with a few exceptions, even the minor characters are well defined and performed. We even get to enjoy Richard Roundtree reprising his role as the original Shaft. (The John Shaft who's the star of this movie is his nephew.)
Walter Wade (Christian Bale) is a spoiled rich kid who is accused of murder. He jumps bail and hides overseas for two years while his wealthy daddy sets up an acquittal for him. When he comes back to face the trial only one thing is missing - the waitress who witnessed the murder. She's in hiding, and Walter enlists the help of Peoples Hernandez, (Jeffery Wright) to find and kill her. Shaft, of course, is racing to find her first.
Most of the movie involves finding the girl, and once found, protecting her from the bad guys. This, of course, involves plenty of fistfights, gunfights, and car chases. Surprisingly, there isn't a single explosion in the film. Even the when cars fly through the air while flipping over, they don't explode. They simply crash, the way they did back in the seventies. Rather than a disappointment, this makes things seem a bit more realistic.
The only thing missing is sex. There's a bit of conversation about it, but there's no gratuitous nudity or hot tub scenes. We expect to see at least a little bump and grind from a hero whose name is a double entendre.
As an added bonus the credits start with the original music by Isaac Hayes. (Who's the black lunchroom cook that teaches kids what ain't in the books? Chief!) Variations of the theme are used as background music though the whole film, and it fits perfectly.
The plot is nothing special, but the action scenes are fast and exciting, and Shaft is great fun to watch for his sheer coolness. It's very funny in spots without resorting to trite, old jokes. It even makes some solid statements about the relationship of race and wealth to justice, without being the least bit preachy about it. Get a big bowl of popcorn, sit back, and enjoy it.
© 2001 Dave Hitt