Like Shaft, Like Shaft

These cats are cool, but their movies lack scripts.

The new “Shaft” movie opens this June, and it reunites Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft II and Richard Roundtree as John Shaft I. So, allow me to dish on the two previous films from 1971 and 2000, baby.

“Shaft” (1971)

The original from 1971 is a blaxploitation film based on white author Ernest Tidyman’s novel with Richard Roundtree as New York Detective John Shaft. He’s got smooth hair, a charismatic mustache, a white shirt, and a brown leather coat; and he walks around with Isaac Hayes’ classic hits sliding along side.

He’s still has to be part of the typical racism that New York cabs have to deny brothers a ride. This is from a time when these kind of movies were deemed politically incorrect, while this generation pays tribute to the genre, race, and the reality of it all.

I’ll try to be as less offensive as possible, brother. Sorry, starting now.

It opens with Shaft dealing with gangster Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), whose daughter Marcy (Sherri Brewer) was kidnapped. He’s the only detective he can turn to, being they’re both African-Americans.

Bumpy accuses another guy named Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) of being the kidnapper, but when Shaft comes to his joint, his team gets raided by other gangsters, so that ain’t him. He ends up joining Shaft on his assignment. This actor really has the goods as this supporting character, if only the movie gave him the roots he deserves.

And Shaft is always at the white lieutenant’s (Charles Cioffi) neck, based on his info and the detective’s ways of handling things. At least, he’s probably the only white guy he can trust in this time period.

Blaxploitation is a genre in which African-American culture is shifted by stereotypes and racism, and how these people are against it, and yet somehow thrive through it. “Shaft” is one of this movies, and Roundtree is the star of the show. He has the dialogue, motivation, and cool cat charms to bring the novel character to life. And you have to give director Gordon Parks credit for guiding him with the right intentions.

But the movie isn’t as outspoken as it should have been. My problem is the storyline. I didn’t understand everything in the game. It’s often confusing, and relies too much on the style and gangsters to keep things rolling along. And in other cases, based on the standard kidnapping plot, it’s not all that interesting.

Roundtree keeps his cool, the groove is smooth, some of the humor is honest, and the final confrontation is entertaining; if only the story was as compelling as these elements are.


“Shaft” (2000)

The 2000 “Shaft,” co-written and directed by the late John Singleton, proves that John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) has a nephew-John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson). So, this is actually a sequel, not a remake, for the record. But it also proves that no matter how cool and stylish Jackson and Roundtree are as the two Shafts, their movies are given boring scripts and not enough inspiration.

The movie opens with Shaft dealing with two criminals-Walter Wade, Jr. (Christian Bale), a billionaire’s racist son, who gets released on bail for the murder of an African-American man (Mekhi Phifer), and Peeples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), a Dominican drug lord.

He arrests these two on respective cases, but when Walter, Jr. is released on bail again, Shaft quits the force, and choses to get the racist his own way. And that same racist is seeking the missing witness to his crime (Toni Collette), and hires Peeples to find and murder her.

In the cast, you also get Vanessa Williams as a fellow detective, who’s character is all cut and paste, and Busta Rhymes as Shaft’s cabbie sidekick, who uses his words as if they were part of his lyrics.

This movie offers a similar cool cat style as the first with Jackson using his words and charms as the nephew; and how David Arnold’s score uses the Rame rhythms as Isaac Hayes’ classic beats. And I also liked the supporting work from Wright and Bale, and how their characters from different worlds splice together.

But it’s difficult to enjoy this movie. The story is generic and uninteresting with all these drug dealers, witnesses, and dirty cops (Dan Hedaya and Ruben Santiago-Hudson). And the violence has to be a bit much, given its R-rating. There’s a scene when Bale gets stabbed through the hand, and another when someone gets thrown out a window to the street. This isn’t my thing.

John Singleton did a fine job guiding Jackson on the right path, without making him seem like he’s better than Roundtree, but the movie never really offers anything new. Once you acknowledge the story, you basically know how it’s gonna go, and you basically stop caring.


I’m gonna dish on the new “Shaft” movie this June, so I want you readers to understand something. I don’t hate these movies at all. I admire Jackson and Roundtree for keeping their groove and using them to fight racism; I just wish their movies were as compelling as they are.

Categories: Action, Crime, Sequel, Thriller

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