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SHAFT is a sit, albeit a crowd-pleasing one for the first hour. Sam Jackson stars-- like there's any other choice?-- in director John Singleton's retro-matic update that updates title character as *nephew* to the original "black private dick." The new Shaft is also a frustrated flatfoot, soon to be quitting over the wig- gle room afforded a hate-crime committing white guy (Christian Bale, with a medium- to medium-high Hiss Factor). (Villain Num- ber Two is an ice-pick packing drug dealer played by BASQUAIT's Jeffrey Wright, who speaks with comically near-incomprehensible "South of the Border" accent. Chew know?) Let's see, there's also a witness hiding out, a couple corrupt cops, and the origin- al John "Why is the sequel set in Africa" Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, in an applause-generating (extended) cameo. Can you dig it? Despite the appealing cast, the story never make much sense. In the prologue, for example, Shaft's obsessive interest in Bale's character is never explained. Wassup with that? (The hastily sketched sequence *does* establish that John Shaft dresses sharp, doesn't mind slugging the occasional suspect, and has some *ex- ceptionally* groovy theme music. As every good hero should have, said Mr. Wayans.) There are other head-scratchers scattered a- bout, but so what? The *real* reason for the season is Jackson and any opportunity for his character to kick another on-screen ass. Brutality be damned. Plus ample amounts of back-talk in- between. (Yo, you suppose Spike Lee objects to the number of n- words in *this* script? Shut yo mouth.) The other cliches are present and accounted for-- foot chases, car chases, fire-escape escapes, etc. Gunfights, too. (Casual- ly strolling through a hail of badly aimed bullets, Jackson's leather-clad invulnerability suggests a starring role in TERMIN- ATOR 3, if it ever happens. I'll be back, motherf*cker.) Far better than the action scenes, however, is the humor. *Plenty* of humor and in addition to Jackson's ultra-charismatic perform- ance. Rapper Busta Rhymes gets guffaws as Shaft's street-wise sidekick. Baddies Bale and Wright also poke fun at each other. That said, I dare *any* summer movie to deliver as loud a laugh as what's heard when Jackson agrees to "serve some" to a female bartender. (He is a "sex machine," after all...) Yup, immensely crowd-pleasing for about an hour and then the sil- liness starts setting in. First, there's the double-cross that Shaft attempts, leading the bad guys right to the house he does- n't want them to find. That's rich. Then, when the shooting starts-- between three or four or five parties, I lost count-- the sequence plays like slapstick. (Or, as Dan Hedaya's charac- ter conveniently comments, "it's f*cked.") From worse to "wors- er" we go, with Toni Collette narrating a deadly serious flash- back. Friends, that quivering lower-lip close-up *almost* sent me screaming from the theater. And finally the finale, involving the smashing of several Cadillacs and one SUV. Everyone dies who should, everyone lives who didn't die, and the hero's theme plays on, wacka wacka wacka wacka... (Rated "R"/98 min.) Grade: C+ Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros
Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: Who's The Hack Movie Cric That's A Sex Machine To All The Chicks?