He might bring you down, but he'll never let you down!
Mythic. That is the word.
The Shaft persona captured the angst and rebellion of the blaxploitation school of popular film and music in the Seventies like nothing else did.
Richard Roundtree's outings as John Shaft, PI, in Shaft (1971), Shaft's Big Sore (1972), Shaft In Africa (1973) and Shaft the TV series (1973) captured the the imagination of inner-city black youth across America.
Amazingly, the series managed to combine cool action, sexy women, stylish violence while confronting the problems of African-Americans in USA and elsewhere.
So when this film was announced almost two years ago, as Shaft Returns (working title, 1999) and Samuel L Jackson was touted to be playing the mythic black urban hero, movie fans popped their corn in surprise!
And the big question on every pair of lips was: Is it as good as the original?
The answer is: It's not Shaft, it's his nephew. Move aside and let The Man pass. Or you'll be the one passing out.
Shaft (2000) is not a remake of the original film. Just as the two Mission Impossible films aren't remakes of the original TV series.
It is a completely fresh film with its own style and attitude. To make the point crystal clear, the Samuel L Jackson character is introduced to us as the nephew of the original Shaft. The nephew is an equally cool dude but his own person in every way.
But if you're asking, does this movie rock? Yes, it does!
Shaft has everything an action film fan wants from a big-budget spectacular: Terrific stunts, slick action sequences, great setups, and a terrific package of entertainment.
What's more, the film is a spoof of action films, debunking one cliché after another, all in Sam Jackson's inimitable wry, cheesy style that makes wise-cracking look more stylish than ever.
Plus it's got all the Shaft machinery working for it: There's composer Isaac Hayes' Oscar-winning score, beautifully updated and rendered afresh, sprinkled with red-hot hip-hop tracks. There's Richard Roundtree in a cameo as Uncle John Shaft.
A sidekick-cum-driver played by Bustah Rhymes, who almost steals the show from under Jackson's nose at times. And there's that very suave Shaft look, the coolest onscreen look since The Matrix.
But a lot has been dumped out the studio window, too. For example, this Shaft is definitely not a ladies man like his uncle was.
Back in 1971, it was considered infra dig to have umpteen shots of Shaft dallying with any number of beautiful babes in various stages of undress.
Fast forward to Y2K and that would seem exploitative now.
But even if the new John Shaft doesn't mess around as much as his old uncle used to, he makes up for it by spewing a f*** in every second sentence. And the set of wheels he uses, an '87 Chevvy Monte Carlo, is sexy enough to turn on the camera. So don't expect a clean and wholesome fest here. There's grit galore.
Jackson's Shaft hits a lot harder and more often, and shoots bad guys about as often as he shoots off his mouth. This Shaft is ultra-violent, and you better love blood in your popcorn because the screen explodes with it, especially in the second half.
But director John Singleton and scriptwriter Ernest Tidyman (author of the Shaft novels) build the character really well. Singleton, a relatively serious director, said he did this film to have a ball.
And he sure as hell did, judging by the results. But his talent also raises the Shaft characterisation way above the usual two-line background description of most action-flick heroes.
And need I even say it? Samuel L Jackson's The Man. At one point, it's rumoured that Will Smith was slated to play the role. But Jackson's grey-wolf persona, with his superb character work in films like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and a dozen other films makes him a great choice.
Sure, Will Smith would have brought it bigger crowds, but Sam Jackson brings in bigger applause.
There's lots more goodies in this black box for action fans, from a surprisingly straightlaced Vanessa Williams (political correctness at work again, we guess), and the maniacally chilled-out Christian Bale (in his second outing as a serial psycho since American Psycho).
But Sam's The Man from start to finish in this fast-and-furious funda flick.