You cannot reinvent the wheel. You can try, but all you’ll succeed in doing is making yet another wheel. Everybody loves wheels, but a wheel is just a wheel.
And Shaft is just a wheel.
To his credit, director John Singleton doesn’t pull a Gus Van Sant-Psycho with Shaft. This isn’t a shot-for-shot update, and the screenplay bares little resemblance to the original story. If anything, this movie is a sequel to the Shaft series; Richard Roundtree even reprises his role as the black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks. (And Singleton has the insight to use Isaac Hayes classic theme as the foundation for the entire score.)
Samuel L. Jackson is Detective John Shaft, the nephew of the John Shaft of yore (Richard Roundtree). Investigating a racially-motivated murder, Shaft coldcocks Walter Wade (Christian Bale), the suspected murderer and the son of a prominent developer. Shaft is outraged when Wade’s bail is posted for a paltry sum and downright pissed off when Wade jumps bail and flees the country.
Two years later, Wade returns to the US and Shaft is waiting. When bail again is posted, Shaft decides to take the law into his own hands, quitting the force and declaring war on Wade. In the meantime, Wade has teamed up with the unlikeliest of allies: Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), a smalltime Dominican dope dealer with a grudge against Shaft. Partnered with street rider Rasaan (Busta Rhymes) and she-cop Carmen (Vanessa Williams), Shaft opens a can of whoop ass against Wade, Peoples (and his peoples) and a corrupt police force.
The cast choices are inspired, particularly Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale, and, outside of some glaringly Singleton sermonizing, Shaft is a quick-paced and fun action flick. But it’s still just a wheel.