By Steve Vivona
We live in an era of remakes and revivals. Hollywood has seen fit to resurrect everything ever committed to film, from "The Flintstones" to "The Addams Family," from "Charlie's Angels" to "Josie and the Pussycats" (cool!). We can even expect a live action version of Scooby Doo next year. Right now the 70s are hot so what better film to remake than the one about the black private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks?
Strictly speaking Shaft is not a remake. Yes, Samuel L. Jackson plays John Shaft but hes the nephew of the elder Shaft played by Richard Roundtree in the original films and subsequent TV series. In fact Roundtree is on hand for a nice little cameo (after 30 years he's as slick as ever. One wishes he had more screen time).
No one is better suited for the role of Shaft than Sam Jackson. His mere presence is the definition of cool and he's on of the most versatile actors of his day. Jackson always gives a nuanced performance, even when playing a by-the-numbers tough guy character like Shaft.
Shaft is a no-nonsense cop whose tactics rankle his superior officers. He has little use for proper procedure and his behavior borders on insubordination. When a sleazy young rich kid (Christian Bale, not exactly stretching his wings after American Psycho) kills a black man outside a bar Shaft is determined to bring him down. However he beats the rap causing Shaft to quit the force in disgust.
Shaft becomes a successful private detective and protector of the neighborhood but he can't shake the notion that justice was not served. When his young adversary returns home after an extended European "vacation" Shaft pursues him with renewed vigor despite opposition from the police and other quarters. He uses all the tools in his arsenal to get to the young killer setting the stage for their inevitable confrontation.
This version of "Shaft" is a worthy successor to the original and Id be happy to see Jackson return in the role. His John Shaft isn't quite the ladies man his uncle is and he seems more obsessive and driven than Roundtree's version. Jackson exudes strength in the role and it's great to watch him intimidate and manipulate the bad guys.
Director John Singleton is better known for more relevant films such as "Boyz in the Hood" and "Rosewood," but hes got a knack for this genre as well. He keeps the action moving at a brisk pace but never sacrifices character development. It's rumored he and Jackson clashed during filming but theres no evidence in the quality of the final product.
Paramount has served up a terrific DVD presentation for "Shaft" that includes two documentaries and the Isaac Hayes music video of the classic theme song. Another video is included as well along with the theatrical trailer. The widescreen image quality is stunning as expected.