Eben: John Shaft is a cold-blooded, calm, calculating avenger. He lives in a racially charged Gotham, and metes out justice the way all superheroes do, except he is way more violent and up front. He is better than Spawn or Blade, and is relevant now since we live in a world that still lacks black superheroes. Shaft kicks butt on them other heroes since he's a real man--no fangs or capes, he just has his gun, and what's between his legs. But let's talk about the movie: I clicked my heels three times when I walked in the theater and said I'm 11, I'm 11, I'm 11. (Most people are shortchanged at action movies because they don't do this.) My inner kid was satisfied and so was my adult. Before the credits roll Samuel is already getting some 'tang.
Samuel Jackson/John Shaft--it's all the same. In fact, he's been John Shaft in most of the movies he's been in; anyone who has seen the original Shaft knows this. He was John Shaft in Pulp Fiction, he was Shaft in that flick with Geena Davis. Now he's John Shaft in Shaft, and he is kicking some motherfucking ass. (Is this review biased? Yes it is. There are some brothers and sisters out here who just want to see a brother get paid. Samuel is one of 'em. If I saw him on the street, I'd just hand him $7.50 and keep walking.)
See, in real life people don't get beat up enough for the bad things they do. In Shaft everybody is brought to justice. Not the cheesy James Bond type of justice where the hideout blows up and you assume everybody is dead. No, Shaft is bust-you-in-the-mouth-till-it-bleeds justice. Should you take the kids to this movie? Hell yeah! As a kid said to me after he saw Rules of Engagement (John Shaft in a uniform), he said: "I liked it but it was too violent." Oh my god, a kid who can recognize for himself when something is too violent. He won't rent it 20 times and then go do a Columbine. Thank god for young minds.
Charles: Eben, you obviously enjoyed Shaft more than I did. I will agree that it's not a bad movie; indeed it may be John Singleton's best movie yet, and Jeffrey Wright's performance is outstanding. But I have a problem with this whole black masculine thing. You say that Shaft is a black hero, but how can I support a hero who is little more than a crude, black male fantasy of power? I think this need for a black counterpart to white masculinity and power was the sole inspiration behind the first Shaft; the age wanted a black man who was not what William Faulkner used to call a "wild nigger," or a product of what psychologists and sociologist used to call "black rage," (these guys were gunned down or hanged sooner or later by white men) but instead a lean, sophisticated, urbane, unassailable, competent, street-wise, sexy motherfucker who could shake in low and high circles. And the stony image of Richard Roundtree adequately satisfied this need.
John Singleton's Shaft, however, is uninspired: It just pushes black macho beyond the limit of good taste and utility. The way Shaft brutally beats up the drug-dealing teenager with the butt of his gun, the way he calmly guns down the Latino gang members (some of them just inches away from his gun), or nearly kills the judge with his badge, it's a little too much, you will agree. It's like Shaft on steroids or Shaft in some hyper-violent video game like Street Fighter. I personally would have preferred a remake of Sidney Poitier's They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! (which was made about the same time as the first Shaft). Now there is a real hero: He is human, handsome, articulate, hard on the criminals who rule the streets of San Francisco, and doesn't wear outrageous clothes like that ridiculous leather trench coat of which Shaft is so fond.
Eben: Charles, what drugs are you on? Never mind, I know! What's wrong with a lean, sexy brother? You undersexed, sexually repressed black man! (By the way Charles, it's not your fault; you live in the Northwest, so you've got no choice but to act like that.) All the things you say you don't like about Shaft, I wear them like a badge. "Crude, black male fantasy?" That's fine with me. But why is it that everything a black man stands for is represented as a negative character trait in American myth? Why aren't they positive attributes? And don't let the myth of Sydney Poitier as America's nice black man confuse you; he probably spanks his wife.
Charles: Does he spank her for pleasure or for punishment?
Eben: For everything! Now back to the movie: Samuel Jackson is three times as hard as Richard Roundtree. He has perfected what Richard Roundtree set off in the first Shaft because he now has the budget and the technology to get it right.
Charles: The first Shaft was a B-movie not because Gordon Park wanted to make a B-movie but because he didn't have enough money to make a first rate movie.
Eben: You're messin' with my high, Charles. What is this new Shaft? It's a good Friday date, go home, have two orgasms movie, and you know it is! And maybe even hit it again in the mornin'. Like Shaft said, "I do my duty for the booty."