There are a lot of dicks, but only one Shaft

Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?
Shaft! Daaaaaamn right.
Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?
Shaft! Can you dig it?

Oh yeah. John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) has put out a remake of Shaft in similar spirit to the original, and grabbed the one person in the world who could really pull off John Shaft: Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson doesn't disappoint. He's a brilliant Shaft -- slick, smooth, suave, and in control. You can't take your eyes off him...and he's almost enough to singlehandedly convince you that you're watching a really great movie.

Shut yo' mouf! But it's true. As good as Jackson is, he isn't given much to work with. He isn't a sex machine to all the chicks -- other than a couple sexual innuendos traded in a pick-up scene at a bar, Shaft remains chick-less all the way through the film (by contrast, his Uncle John -- in a cameo by original Shaft Richard Roundtree -- goes home with two women at once in the same bar scene). The violence, on the other hand, has been turned up a huge amount, and it doesn't always make sense. The bad guys are bad because Shaft doesn't like them (and it's a credit to Samuel Jackson's acting ability and Shaft-like smoothness that the audience -accepts- that): for instance, there's a scene in which a woman tells Shaft that she thinks her 12-year-old son is being asked to run drugs for a street hood, and without asking questions Shaft beats the street tough to a pulp. Why? Shaft is a bad mutha. And if he says it's so, it's so.

The movie's plot doesn't make all -that- much sense, either. It centers around finding the only witness to a murder so the bad guy (American Psycho's Christian Bale, slickly psychopathic for the second time this year) can't be set free by his rich dad's lawyers. But this murder doesn't really need a witness -- a restaurant full of people saw Bad Guy pick a fight with Good Guy, Bad Guy chase Good Guy out onto the street, and Bad Guy come back in with blood on his hands. The police have Bad Guy's prints on the murder weapon. And the entire case hinges on the testimony of a cocktail waitress who saw the murder from across the street? I don't think so.

Casting is hit and miss -- Vanessa Williams is very good as a vice cop, Bale is a great psycho, Richard Roundtree rocks, Jeffrey Wright's drug dealer Peoples Hernandez is always worth watching, Busta Rhymes is funny and fantastic as Shaft's sidekick, and of course Samuel Jackson rules as Shaft. On the other hand, Dan Hedaya plays the same character he plays in every single movie he's in, Oscar nominee Toni Collette is woefully underused as the elusive witness, and everyone else is pretty much instantly forgettable no matter how much they're in the movie.

On the other hand, Isaac Hayes does the classic theme song just the way it should be done, and did I mention that Samuel Jackson is so amazingly good you can't take your eyes off the screen when he's on it?

The movie is worth seeing. It's not as bad as the last Batman movie, and Samuel Jackson kicks a whole lot ass, and he's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about. I just wish he'd had more to work with.


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