Shaft

John Singleton clearly reveres the heyday of '70s action pictures, their low-key car chases, muddy-looking location cinematography and restrained gunfights. The most surprising thing about his sequel/reworking of pioneering blaxploitation picture SHAFT is how true to the '70s it is, from the funk-heavy soundtrack to the restrained mayhem. The question is...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

John Singleton clearly reveres the heyday of '70s action pictures, their low-key car chases, muddy-looking location cinematography and restrained gunfights. The most surprising thing about his sequel/reworking of pioneering blaxploitation picture SHAFT is

how true to the '70s it is, from the funk-heavy soundtrack to the restrained mayhem. The question is whether it can hold the attention of today's adrenaline junkies, who weren't born when SHAFT opened and have no sentimental attachment to the "black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks:" It's a bad sign when audience enthusiasm peaks during the credits sequence. NYC cop John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) catches a particularly ugly murder at a swanky nightspot. A young black man has been beaten to death, and the chief suspect is an arrogant multimillionaire's son, Walter Wade

(Christian Bale). Shaft is convinced that terrified employee Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette) saw the whole thing, but she gives him the slip and Wade later skips bail for Switzerland. Two years later, Wade returns to New York and is rearrested; but without Palmieri's testimony he's sure to walk. Determined to silence her, Wade tries to hire volatile drug lord Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), who has his own bone to pick with Shaft. And then everything goes right to hell. Singleton and Jackson's devotion to the original film's innovations (including its constant reminder that in America race is always an issue) is evident, though reports from the troubled set suggest that theirs was an uphill battle. If original Shaft Richard Roundtree (who has a substantial cameo in the new film) hadn't blazed the trail, Wesley Snipes, Will Smith and Danny Glover wouldn't be rolling up on white baddies today, cans of whup-ass at the ready. The trouble is that in 1971 Shaft stood alone, while today he's just another guy bucking the corrupt system.

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