THE CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Jeff Vice (desnews.com), Erik Lundegaard (Seattle Times), Michael Wilmington (Chicago Tribune), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Chris Gore (The New Movie Show – FX channel), Bil Dwyer (Guest panelist on “The New Movie Show), and Ron Wells (filmthreat.com).
* * * * out of 4 stars (R)
Isaac Hayes’ 1971 theme song says, “They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother.” (back up vocals interrupt), “Shut yo mouth!” The song continues, “But I’m talkin’ ’bout Shaft.” The legendary song goes on, but unfortunately some movie critics don’t know which Shaft the song is talkin’ ’bout.
Jeff Vice (desnews.com) said, “The big-budget remake of the 1971 cult hit “Shaft” is a real dud.”
Stop! Hold it right there, Jeff. This movie is not a remake. It is merely a “sequel” or an “update” of the original 70’s “Shaft” movies that starred Richard Roundtree. Samuel Jackson does not star as THE Shaft in this new movie. He is John Shaft, the nephew of Uncle John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) who also appears in the film with Jackson. Can it you dig it?
Hayes’ original theme song may cause confusion because it was about Uncle Shaft. However, this movie uses it, suggesting there must be similarities among the two characters – but not a clone, which are what some movie critics expected.
Erik Lundegaard (Seattle Times) said, “What’s missing, interestingly, is the sex. The original Shaft, remember, was a ‘private dick who’s a sex machine to all chicks.’ This Shaft is still getting some, but we never see it.” Yet Erik reminds us in his column that the original “Shaft” release contained “no nudity.” Now I’m confused. Regardless, we do see Roundtree walk out the door with one woman in each arm and Jackson did say to a female bartender, “It’s my duty to serve your booty.” The film didn’t need sex to be cool.
Michael Wilmington (Chicago Tribune) makes a good point: “.the old “Shaft” movies took regular bedroom breaks. But this movie’s agenda includes upgrading the female characters from the pliant playmates of the past to co-workers or people of respect: Williams as a tough cop, Collette as a conflicted witness and Lynn Thigpen as the victim’s angry mother.” A smart move by the producers Scott Rudin and John Singleton – despite some head butting reports.
“Shaft” was indeed, cool. Samuel Jackson stood out like an armored tank in this film and its well-developed characters essentially drove the movie. Jeff Vice contends the film contained “ugly ethnic and racial stereotyping” and that Christian Bale was “miscast.”
Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) has a more accurate view, describing the relationship of Bale and Wright: “.The way they talk to each other, the words they choose, the attitudes they strike, the changes they go through, are as subtly menacing as scenes in a film by Lee or Scorsese. The movie doesn’t give us stereotypes in these two familiar roles, but closely examined originals.”
Vice also said actor Jeffrey Wright’s drug lord character carried an “exaggerated accent” and “is downright embarrassing.” Apparently Vice didn’t do extensive research within New York’s Dominican community. Wright did, for purposes of his role and the film’s production notes said he “perfected a flawless Dominican accent.”
Chris Gore, host of “The New Movie Show” (FX network) and editor of FilmThreat.com, said on his show (June 22, 2000) that “Shaft” was like a fast food meal: “I enjoy a bad burger while I’m eating it, but, uh, when I burp it up and get that after taste – doesn’t taste so good. The same goes for this movie.” Listening to Gore was like eating a cold french fry and we all know what that’s like. Sorry, Chris. Your guest panelist, Bil Dwyer (actor/comedian), got it right: “This movie is great.this movie’s a gas.it’s cool.”
Comparisons of the original “Shaft” is to be expected. But considering we’re talkin’ ’bout a new Shaft character, we should review the film on its own merits. This is not the blaxploitation flick of the 70’s nor could we come close to duplicate the impact of that groundbreaking film.
Ron Wells (filmthreat.com) sums the movie up best: “In the end, you have to ask just one question: Was I entertained? Yeah, it all kind of worked for me. Two hours of Jackson shopping as this character would have been fun to watch, so it’s hard not to like him kicking a*s and clearing house.” Ron gives the movie three stars, but I’ll add one more.
To those critics who didn’t like this film, I got some cool advice – “Shut yo mouth!” “Shaft” is probably going to be the next big franchise in the movie industry, so get ready for Jackson’s return.
You can bet your booty he’ll be back for duty.
– Critic Doctor

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