Sunday, February 16, 2014


There are two pieces of music that I want to have played at my funeral. One is "El Paso", Marty Robbins' epic ballad of love and death in west Texas. The other is the magnificently funky (and Oscar winning)  "Theme from SHAFT" by the great Isaac Hayes. I know. These songs have nothing in common except for the fact that I love 'em both.

This desire was brought to mind the other day when I watched SHAFT (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson in the title role. This new iteration of the classic character is a B movie all the way and I had a blast watching it. Jackson is one swaggering, smart mouthed, bad ass motherfucker as John Shaft, a New York City police detective who is the nephew of the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, who appears in a supporting role). Shaft is determined to bring Christian Bale to justice. Bale plays a rich young white man who murdered a young black man outside of a New York City bar. Toni Collette plays a waitress who witnessed the crime but she's disappeared. Bale keeps thwarting justice and Shaft, frustrated by a corrupt system, quits the force and goes out on his own to find Collette and get her to testify against Bale. But Shaft has to contend with a vicious drug kingpin (Jeffrey Wright) and a couple of crooked cops. He's aided by his partner from the police department, the beautiful Vanessa Williams. There's lots of gun play, car chases and beat downs and Jackson delivers some terrific one-liners with his tongue planted firmly in cheek. Beware: there are numerous uses of the "N" word and Shaft tells someone to "shut the fuck up" more than once.

Everyone in the cast appears to be having fun with this gloriously retro material and director John Singleton pays homage to the original blaxploitation classic while still telling his own story in his own style. I like Samuel L. Jackson a lot and he is fun to watch here. It's interesting to note that both Jackson and Bale would go on to play two major comic book superheroes in films later in the decade, Jackson as Nick Fury in the Marvel Avengers movie franchise and Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.

SHAFT isn't a great film but I enjoyed watching it. I knew exactly what I was in for and I wasn't disappointed. I still prefer the original because it was such a groundbreaking, pioneering film in which a tough black guy took center stage in an urban crime flick as the hero of the piece. But whether he's played by Roundtree or Jackson, Shaft is still the cat who won't cop out when there's danger all about.

You're damn right.


  1. It's too bad we couldn't see Sam Jackson continue in the role but the story is that he and John Singleton disagreed so violently during the shooting of the movie that Jackson has sworn to never work with him again. Last I heard, Richard Roundtree is supposed to star in a sequel.

  2. I'm gonna be "that guy" and gripe about how Parks' '71 movie didn't do justice to Ernest Tidyman's book. Well, okay, I'm not gonna gripe because it's a great movie (with an excellent soundtrack) but Tidyman's novel "Shaft" is such a razor character.

    I've always thought of Yaphet Kotto as a perfect John Shaft [or as Lt. Garber whilst rereading Morton Freedgood(John Godey)'s "Taking of Pelham One Two Three" for the umpteenth time].

    Quibble quibble.

  3. I must confess that I've never read Tidyman's original SHAFT novel, so, without that frame of reference, I've still got to go with the 1971 version as the best. I'd like to read the novel someday. I read THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE when it was first published. I've still got a copy of it on my shelf and I hope to get around to re-reading it one of these days. I saw the original film version when it was released and again a few year ago at the Paramount on a double bill with John Frankenheimer's BLACK SUNDAY. Great stuff!