Dir: John Singleton. US. 2000.
Prod cos: Scott Rudin Productions, New Deal Productions, Paramount Pictures. US dist: Paramount. Int'l dist: UIP. Exec prods: Adam Schroeder, Paul Hall, Steve Nicolaides. Prods: Scott Rudin, John Singleton. Scr: Richard Price, Singleton & Shane Salerno, story by Singleton & Salerno based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman. DoP: Donald E Thorin. Prod des: Patrizia Von Brandenstein. Ed: John Bloom, Antonia Van Drimmelen. Mus: David Arnold, Isaac Hayes. Main cast: Samuel L Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Busta Rhymes, Dan Hedaya, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree.
The ultimate 70s blaxploitation picture gets a slick, expensive re-makeover courtesy of producer Scott Rudin and Paramount and in the process loses its edge. No longer is Shaft a gritty urban mix of sex'n'violence but rather a black James Bond flick, with supercool Samuel L Jackson playing the character tongue firmly in cheek.
As co-written and directed by the gifted John Singleton, the movie pays appropriate homage to the 1971 movie - original Shaft Richard Roundtree plays Jackson's uncle John and Isaac Hayes' electrifying theme song gets a reworking courtesy of 007 composer David Arnold. Aside from that, however, Samuel L Jackson's Shaft is a yuppy, gadding about in Armani outfits (Armani dressed both Jackson and Vanessa Williams) and cunningly double-crossing his nemeses as if he were in Mission: Impossible. And gone is the Shaft way with women. In this movie, he only hits on one and Singleton cuts away from the scene as if he didn't mean to put it in at all.
Perhaps in this age of sterilised action pictures, audiences will respond to a sterilised Shaft. Singleton certainly creates a boo-worthy villain in racist millionaire's son Christian Bale (still in Patrick Bateman character) and the very simple storyline - Shaft and Bale race each other to find the one witness (Collette) to Bale's murder of a black student - keeps the focus on the action.
Certainly domestically, African American audiences - which represent a mighty segment of the box office - will lap it up initially. Internationally, it will fare less well, especially since the abundant swearing will prohibit children and young teens from admission.
Particularly notable in the cast is Jeffrey Wright - a fine actor who made an impression in Basquiat and Ride With The Devil - as a Latino druglord whom Bale hires to find Collette. Sporting a thick accent and mischievous swagger, he steals every scene he's in.