I think the Taco Bell by the movie theater has finally closed down. Maybe there aren’t enough people to work there anymore? — We are winning, America! — And so it was prophesied that L & D sat in an essentially empty and quite large multiplex theater to see Samuel L. Jackson star in Shaft. The film started off on shaky ground with some intensely stiff acting and dialogue. But luckily for everyone involved it loosened up once Mr. Jackson arrived on scene.
If you’ve ever watched any Blaxploitation films, say on the Bounce network, (which I get on TV airwaves here in Northeastern Wisconsin — though if that’s not enough for you, Bounce owns Brown Sugar, a 1970’s era Blaxploitation on demand service) there’s one common denominator, namely low production value. Bad, I mean bad! lighting, awkward, I mean distractingly awkward! editing and poor, piss poor! composition people. Is there a reason for this? I’m sure there is. The reason has to do with low budgets. Those days are gone, as the new Shaft has the production value of a James Bond film. The lighting, camera movement, wardrobe, art direction and sound are of the highest caliber. The film has enough confidence in itself to make light of the genre. For example, when Shaft is about to enter a shady nightclub, there is a blatant smoke machine hidden behind a trash can spewing way too much non-motivated smoke. It’s confusing at first until you get the joke. Then, in a most excellent scene, Shaft is in the apartment hallway of his ex-wife. He is at her door, pleading to be let in, when he is interrupted by a neighbor who gives him the stink eye. Suddenly the groovy music winds down like someone pulled the plug on the Rev. Al Green 33 that was spinning on your record player. As soon as the neighbor gets a look at Shaft’s gun, he is terrified and slams his door — the song cranks up to speed again. It’s a great breaking the fourth wall moment.
I would be remiss in writing about Shaft without mentioning the great African-American writer of hardboiled novels and social narratives, Mr. Chester Himes. If you’ve never heard of Chester Himes, click on that link already. He delighted many readers and inspired many writers and filmmakers with his series of nine Harlem Detective novels. It’s safe to say what Raymond Chandler is to Hollywood, Chester Himes is to Harlem. And with this in mind, I really enjoyed Shaft. I have no idea if I was laughing at the appropriate places but I was definitely laughing. Even D, who was not impressed with the wobbly opening, started laughing. There is just something about Samuel L. Jackson, he really is like a funky Mr. Miyagi. After all, he has already portrayed a Jedi Master. Also, in one scene he reminds us that he is tired of the Laurence Fishburne comparisons!
At its core, Shaft is a generation-gap-father-son film. It at least acknowledges that times have changed, even if it sticks to stereotypes. However, the stereotypes are with tongue firmly planted in cheek and with the good intention of the audience having a little fun. Of course here, the good guys win through violence, the Dad teaches the kid how to be a proper manly man and the women in the film either step aside, need to be rescued or forgive the unforgivable — or at least the truly shitty. It’s still a Blaxsploitaion genre movie but Shaft does have his heart in the right place even if sometimes his actions and words betray him. His character flaws and redeeming values are identical to Himes’ hardboiled heroes.
Yeah, it’s a family movie if your family eats expletives for breakfast, doesn’t mind people getting shot up with AK-47s and finds glitter all over a bare chest quite amusing. I’m not going to tell you if I found it quite amusing. I’m also not going to tell you where the glitter was on Shaft. In the final analysis, Shaft checked all the kick up your feet and enjoy a summertime movie for 6 bucks boxes but it wasn’t a great movie and certainly something you could enjoy in your La-Z-Boy recliner or loveseat at home. Also, motherfucker. A lot.