Release Date: June 16, 2000
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa
Williams, Toni Collette,
Christian Bale, Jeffrey
Wright, Richard Roundtree,
Busta Rhymes, & Dan Hedaya
Genre: Detective Fiction
Audience: Teenagers & adults
Runtime: 99 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: John Singleton
Executive Producer: Adam Schroeder, Paul Hall &
Producer: Scott Rudin & John Singleton
Writer: Richard Price, John Singleton
& Shane Salerno
Address Comments To:Sherry Lansing, Chairman/CEO
Motion Picture Group
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
Jackson plays a tough New York City police detective, John Shaft, investigating the murder of a black college student at a local nightclub. A waitress/bartender (Toni Collette) fingers a young, rich, white racist named Walter Wade, Jr. (Christian Bale of AMERICAN PSYCHO). Wade taunts the man after the man enters the club with his date, a young white woman with blond hair. The racist skips bail, however, and the eyewitness disappears.
Two years later, the rich racist secretly returns to America, only to be nabbed by Det. Shaft. When the new judge still sets bail for the scoundrel, Shaft resigns from the force to become a private detective like his Uncle John (Richard Roundtree). His first assignment: get the goods on Mr. Wade by finding the eyewitness and convincing her to talk. Helping him is an informant named Rasaan (rapper Busta Rhymes) and a woman cop, Carmen, played by Vanessa Williams. Complicating matters is a Dominican drug dealer named Peoples Hernandez who made friends with Wade while they were in jail and who wants revenge on Shaft for humiliating him in the neighborhood he rules.
As might be expected, both Jackson and Roundtree are the epitome of modern cool in this new version of SHAFT. Regrettably, their stylish masculinity, like white secret agent James Bond, also includes fornicating with the opposite sex, something which the movie implies in two scenes. One of those scenes includes a couple crude, equally unnecessary, innuendoes in the dialogue. Although the sexual immorality is only implied in these two scenes, not actually shown, the opening credit sequence to SHAFT includes brief images of faceless, depicted sexual intercourse, including flashes of rear nudity and upper female nudity. Cutting these unnecessary images would have made the movie significantly more tame, sexually speaking, but perhaps that is exactly the point being made. After all, the famous, original, Oscar-winning song by Isaac Hayes, which plays during the opening credits, says that Shaft is a “sex machine.”
Another bothersome aspect to this new SHAFT is the hero’s search for vigilante justice. An act of vigilante justice, in fact, closes out the movie, and the act seems to bring a slight smile from Shaft’s lips. Of course, most hardboiled detective fiction stories, even older works such as Raymond Chandler’s novels, flirt with the idea of vigilante justice. The world that the heroes encounter in these books is usually very corrupt, with normal laws being ineffectual. The heroes thus must establish their own code of ethics in order to stop the evil that is hurting or even corrupting the innocent. That code is usually based on some of the ethics in many traditional Westerns. The best of these stories are morally satisfying as well as emotionally stimulating. There’s a line, however, between justice and injustice that shouldn’t be crossed. The new SHAFT seems to cross that line in the end. Instead of mitigating the movie’s paganism, it strengthens it.
Finally, there are well over 100 obscenities and profanities in SHAFT. There is also one toilet joke that is extremely vulgar, even sickening. Although the movie contains strong gun violence and images of splattering blood typical of most R-rated crime flicks, the brutal murder of the black college student by the rich racist is repeated at least twice in flashback. Such repeated imagery is just as likely to inspire violent racists as discourage them.
SHAFT includes some moral elements about fighting corruption, arresting criminals and telling the truth, but it has a pagan worldview supporting vigilante justice and sexual immorality. There are also well over 100 obscenities and profanities in SHAFT, and one toilet joke that is extremely vulgar, even sickening. Finally, although the movie contains strong gun violence and images of blood splattering typical of R-rated urban crime flicks, the brutal murder of the black college student by the rich racist is repeated at least twice in flashback. Such repeated imagery is just as likely to inspire violent racists as it will discourage them