If there’s one thing I’d be happy to spend some money on, it would be sequels and reboots to the original Richard Roundtree Shaft movies. And while Samuel L. Jackson’s iteration of the cool, black cat detective isn’t anywhere near the heights of Roundtree’s success, it is a formidable attempt at bringing Shaft into the modern age. It works, to a degree, but it leaves a lot to be desired from such a rigid take on one of cinemas best remembered characters. Shaft 2000 has an envious job, but does it superbly well.
By all means the highlight of the film is Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to be built perfectly for the role in both style and substance. His one liner delivery and hard-ass style of detective work is a great addition to the movie, blending with the personality of the man playing the character. His work here is superb, but his lack of chemistry with anyone else is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it’s great to see that the character stands up on its own with some formidable writing from Richard Price. On the other hand though, director John Singleton never goes deeper than a foundation level of depth for his main character, leaving a lot to be desired in the growth department. But Shaft 2000 isn’t focused on building its characters.
Still, you don’t go to a Shaft movie for character development. You go for hard hitting action, one liners and an on-screen presence like no other. Roundtree’s appearance as “Uncle” John Shaft feels more like him passing his blessing onto Jackson, which is extremely important since it allows me to feel more comfortable with the reboot itself. He shares a couple of scenes with Jackson, but it feels more like a passing of the torch than a genuine connection between the two. But that’s the feeling you get from the rest of the cast too, no real connection and they’re there so John Shaft has something to punch/have sex with.
But I suppose that’s what they’re there for, and who better to punch than Christian Bale’s wallowing and unfortunately forgettable Walter Wade Jr. A man whose main characteristics are capitalist and racist, he’s the worst of the worst but it doesn’t go much deeper than that. The plot centres around a court case after Wade kills a man in cold blood, and it’s up to Shaft to make sure he doesn’t get off without a significant punishment. Nothing much comes of that, but the film rushes its ending so vivaciously it’s a genuine surprise when the film finally ends.
A definite enjoyable time, but what I can remember from Shaft is so vastly limited that it feels almost futile to consider recommending this to someone who doesn’t like a bit of brain-dead action. A lot of fun if you let the film take you away on a ride, but nothing much else outside of that, just like the original, Shaft 2000 is a fun, energetic, shallow romp through the streets of Harlem.