THE STORY: It’s 1998, and NYPD Detective John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson) has been called on to do what he does best: Investigate crime. A young African American has been murdered outside of a popular restaurant, and the perpetrator is clear as day in white Walter Wade, Jr (Christian Bale), the son of a multimillionaire real estate investor. He’s rightfully arrested, but gets out on bail and leaves the country, in large part because the one witness they have, waitress Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette) has disappeared for good after being questioned by Shaft.
Now in Y2K, Shaft has been tipped off to the whereabouts of Wade, managing to bring him in again, and once again failing to bring him to justice. It’s evident that the only way this man will spend a long period of time behind bars is if Shaft can locate Diane and convince her to testify against the entitled rich boy. Knowing this to be the case as well, Wade enlists the help of a local drug kingpin, Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright) to put the hit out on the waitress.
WHAT TO WATCH: Presentation. There are some definite things wrong with Shaft 2000 (lack of action, not quite nailing the blend between comedy, action, and crime, and a somewhat meandering plot) but a lack of style ain’t one of them. Director John Singleton (rest in peace) kept much of the style and general aesthetic approach Gordon Parks took when directing the original 1971 version. That is to say that some of Shaft does look legitimately “cheap,” paying homage to the blaxploitation films of yesteryear like Super Fly (directed by Parks’ son) that often were made for less than one million dollars. Everything from the scene transitions to the occasional haphazard editing should be viewed more as a deliberate honoring than any actual flaw.
The supporting cast! Looking through the listing and seeing a glut of young actors and actresses who are not only A/B-listers, but legitimately talented 20 years later is quite the surprise. Bale Wright, and Collette are consistently listed in the upper echelon of their profession, and Elizabeth Banks (only appearing in one scene, non-speaking at that!) is often pretty solid in her own right. Jackson (a good Shaft, if 10-15 years older than what the character needed to be), Vanessa Williams, and yes, Busta Rhymes are positioned as the stars—this was the year 2000, after all. Early on, though. there’s no doubt as to where the talent lies.
The best thing Shaft 2000 had going for it was the music. Longtime Singleton collaborator in composer David Arnold brought back the sounds that evoked the 70’s, creating a soulful and vibrant composition. Last, but definitely not least, “Black Moses” himself Issac Hayes returned to the property that won him an Oscar, re-recording the Theme From Shaft. It’s just as hilarious and smooth as it was when it debuted.
A GREAT MOMENT: The exchanges between Hernandez and Wade are compelling, two egotistical villains who aren’t all that different but obviously cut from differing cloths. They carry more depth than anything in the movie. One scene in the movie sees Wade reuniting with Hernandez (they were first exposed to each other in jail courtesy of Shaft) at the drug lord’s lavish home. Wade has once again evaded justice, but he’s pushing his luck with Diane still standing a chance to testify. So, Wade comes to the realization that he must kill the waitresses, only a white-collar guy like himself would never do it…but Hernandez could. Wade offers him 40K in jewels to get the job done.
For Hernandez, this isn’t enough, and anyone who would agree to carry out a hit for 40K isn’t too bright. The unique thing is that Hernandez doesn’t ask for double, triple, or quadruple. What he does ask for is Wade’s “face,” the rich white persona that could pose as Hernandez in the affluent areas of New York where wealthy customers would never give a Dominican Hernandez the time of day. It’s a great scene, as it displays Hernandez’s desire to be a modern-day Scarface, while also knowing his limitations based on society. Wright’s performance grows on a viewer, initially seeming like a rip on Tony Montana and soon evolving into a character that feels real, and seeing him paired across a racist Bale who are both looking to protect their own interests and philosophies makes for the best drama and tension in the entire feature.
THE TALLY: Deserving of a forthcoming follow-up not mere years, but almost two full decades after release? Not really, but it is Hollywood, and much, much worse can and will be remade and followed-up in the future. Contrary to what Hayes said, Shaft isn’t a complicated man, and neither is his movie. It is fun in stretches, though, and it’s What to Watch (sort of).
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