The classic private dick is back in this update/sequel to the classic blaxploitation movie Shaft. This time, Samuel L. Jackson (Deep Blue Sea, The Red Violin) is John Shaft, the nephew of the original Shaft (Richard Roundtree) who also appears in the film. Director John Singleton (Rosewood, Higher Learning) set out to make a modern version of Shaft, but this new version is missing a few elements. This could be because of some of the many rumored problems between people during the making, but most of it is because while the story translates well, it means nothing without some of the meaning behind it.

Essentially, Shaft is still sticking it to the man, but no one is really sure why. The main plot revolves around Shaft trying to get Diane, a waitress (Toni Collette, 8 1/2 Women, The Sixth Sense) to testify. Two years ago, Walter Wade (Christian Bale, American Psycho, The Velvet Goldmine) murdered a black man. Bale plays the same rich murderer he did in American Psycho. Wade jumped bail and fled to Switzerland, but for reasons unknown, returned home. Now, Shaft has an opportunity to prosecute him. Unfortunately, Diane is in hiding, and both Shaft and Wade are looking for her. On Shaft's side is Carmen (Vanessa Williams, Light It Up, The Adventures of Elmo in Groucholand). On Wade's side is local drug dealer Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright, Hamlet, Celebrity) and some crooked cops (including Dan Hedaya, who played a crooked cop in Hurricane). Rapper Busta Rhymes also appears in the film as comic relief that is not too funny.

Singleton, along with Shane Salerno (Armageddon), and Richard Price share writing credits for Shaft. They fail to dig deeper into Shaft's psyche. Sure, he's pissed off, but why? Jackson is an engaging presence, and very believable as Shaft. He's a badass, and supposedly has a reputation for being difficult, but none of this appears in the movie. Replace Shaft with a white man, and the entire story is still plausible. All of the other actors give one-note performances. In addition, Singleton and crew tone down his sexuality. The original Shaft was a love machine; Jackson's Shaft is not. Roundtree steals any scene where he and Jackson appear, mainly because Jackson's character is in so much awe of him. The action scenes are about average. The exasperating thing about them is that while all his enemies miss, Shaft never misses after more than two shots. The ending obviously sets up Shaft as a possible franchise, and with a little tweaking, the sequels will be better than the original.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R for strong violence and language.

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